Thursday, March 21, 2019

The History of Celticado - My traditional Celtic duo

About 14 years ago, I was living in Hadley in a rental apartment on route 9 not far from whole foods.

I was playing at the time with a string quartet that played traditional Irish and Celtic music called Woodkerne. The first name was cracker Jack. We had to change the name because one of our members discovered that there was a punk rock group in the Saratoga Springs area with the same name and didn't want to conflict with the group. So we saw out a name change, everybody came up with their own ideas, and we voted and the one we liked the most was Woodkerne. Now most people don't know what that word means, and I'll just say that in the history of Ireland when the English were driving the Irish landowners out of their homes and castles murdering them and taking their women and children it was a tumultuous time and groups of young men would flee to the woods where they would set up camps and try to make a living as subsistence and as rangers and and what not. This might just well-be where some of the most famous stories about rogues and Robin Hood certainly and some of the other stories like the wonderful Clancy Brothers tune Brennan on the moor originated.

The name Woodkerne means woods obviously, and Kern is the English word for Cannon fodder. Back in the middle ages, unskilled farmers and young men and boys were often recruited by advancing armies to go in front and basically be hacked down, slowing the advancing enemy army. They were called Kerne, and so the name Woodkerne essentially refers to people who live in the woods who come out and try to take their land back. So if you go to Wikipedia and you look up the word Woodkerne you should be able to find a much better definition than the one I've just given you.

Our band consisted of banjo, fiddle, guitar, and bodhran. We played a mixture of Celtic fiddle tunes that were tunes that I had picked up over the years playing in bluegrass bands and contradance bands. The members also contributed their own songs that they wanted to play and we sang a few songs as well. We played a variety of jigs and horn pipes and polkas and waltzes and because of my classical music background and it specifically my chamber music background I really spent a lot of time making up interesting arrangements for the different musical instruments. Now I got kind of in trouble for that, because one of our players in the group specifically said on many occasion that traditional Irish music was not harmonized there was no improvisation and nobody took turns playing at that everybody played the same melody all together at the same time without any cordial backup or at least very minimal. So I thought that that was pretty hokey and not something I wanted to do. Which is why I started calling the band style music Celtic, rather than traditional Irish. I had done some reading about what traditional Irish really meant, and I had learned that there is a lot of confusion about what traditional Irish meant and the history of Irish music is so convoluted that it would take further study. Now this was the 1990s, 1998 as a matter of fact, and I had not done the deep research on the topic yet, but I knew enough about the music that I really felt it wouldn't be fair to call it traditional Irish. So we billed ourselves as a Celtic band. Thankfully, it didn't seem to hurt us in the slightest.

We played for a lot of weddings and concerts and private events and public events. We played at a golf course. We played on the side of a of a mountain in a stone chapel, in an abandoned camp, in hotels, and all over New England. Two of us went to Egypt and played in front of the great pyramids in a world music festival. We were hired to play in a real swanky wedding in California and the bride and groom paid for our tickets and put us up in a very nice hotel and Anaheim. We played a lot of really interesting places and had a really good time doing it.

In 2001, our guitar player, Paul Burton, had to move away. And that meant that we had to find another
Irish Bouzouki
guitar player. Now the banjo player and I were the really oldest members of the group. He and I had been playing together since the early '90s with another band called Maple Ridge. His name was John Rough. John and I used to go to an Irish session that we helped set up in North Amherst at a public house called The Harp. The session was on Friday nights and we would go over there and sit and have a couple of Guinness and play some tunes. At one of the sessions, we met a man from Connecticut named James Bunting. He was playing an instrument that looked like a very large mandolin and later when I got to talk to him he told me it was called an Irish bouzouki. But I never heard of a bouzouki before so of course I had to go online and learn everything I could about it. As it turns out a member of the Bothy Band which is a very famous Irish band, took his family on vacation degrees in 1966 and there he picked up a Greek bouzouki which he played a little bit while he was there and brought it back with him to Ireland when he returned and started playing around with it in the Bothy Band and soon after several other bands including the De Dannen which is another famous Irish super group and all tan started incorporating the bouzouki into their music and now it's highly unusual to find an Irish band that doesn't have a bouzouki player. but I didn't know any of that at the time, so it was a great conversation starter. I went up to gym and said "hey my name is Adam I really enjoying your playing, what is that instrument?" We chatted for a while about that turned out he also played guitar one thing let to another and I invited him to come to a Thursday night rehearsal at my house and Hadley which she did the following Thursday. So it seemed like we had our guitar player.

Over the next eight years would current played 100th of concerts weddings parties and other events together. We lost our bodhran player who developed a severe rheumatoid arthritis and couldn't use the tapper anymore. So we had to look around for another bodhran player and I found one whose name was Andy Weiner. Andy was just learning how to play but he could play sufficiently so that he could provide a solid beat behind the group the group smelly and that's all we really needed. Andy was a real good guy very friendly very upbeat always wanting to help out with a contradict background so we kind of lucked out with that.

We recorded our second album at Avocet recording studios in Colrain I forgot to mention, that our first album was also recorded there and if you go to my band camp page which is you can download the music from those albums directly from that page if you want a CD of either the first or the second album let me know and I will do my best to burn one for you from my desktop.
Woodkerne 2009

So after losing Dan and acquiring Andy, we were able to get back into the gigs and get back to work but all good things must come to an end, and in 2009 we played our last gig together which was at a Irish night in New Haven Connecticut and unfortunately I mean it was a great show but the organizers refused to pay us because they said that they hadn't drawn enough people and we were only going to be paid a percentage of the door so we ended up not making much money that night. And when I went to tell the guys, they were not happy at all. After that we played one or two more gigs together but the magic had gone.

Celticado, was a duo that James Bunting and I formed way back in 2005 at the beginning of all this to play strip down easy cheap weddings and other events for clients that didn't want to pay for the full quartet. So when the band broke up in 2009, James and I continued to play together. we've had several people join us over the years and work on several projects, for example in 2010 Marc Vocca joined us for a special concert at the Windsor Art Center in Connecticut:

We've also played with other great musicians and had some wonderful experiences as a duo and then as a trio with Claudine Langille. Now I would like to talk about Claudine, but I believe it deserves a separate podcast or blog post so I will get to it at another time suffice to say that Claudine is one of the world's greatest traditional Irish mandolin players alive today. And it is always a treat to be able to play a gig with Claudine.

Celticado's Website:

Well thank you very much for reading this post and/or hearing it on my podcast website if you have any questions or comments look forward to receiving them through my website at have a great day.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Five String Violins

I bought my first Five String Violin from a seller on eBay back in 1998.  I wanted something I could play on stage with my country band, Wild Heart, and bring with me to Egypt for a concert I was gearing up for in front of the Great Pyramids in Cairo.  I did some online research and learned about a company called Straus that was based in Korea.  They made a lot of other models including the one I liked (which was shaped like a treble clef).  The factory also built mandolins for some top American brands including Fender (electric violins), Michael Kelly and Rigel (mandolins) and Saga (banjos, guitars, bouzoukis).

Here's a picture of me playing my Straus electric violin with my friend Brian Bender on the trombone.  You can see the Great Pyramid of Giza in the back.  We were literally dozens of feet in front of the Sphinx.

Brian Bender / Adam Sweet - Cairo, Egypt 1999

After a while, I decided I wanted something acoustic that I could play with my celtic band Woodkerne.  Back to the internet, I learned about a maker in Chicago named Martin Brunkalla.  I contacted him and worked out an arrangement to distribute his 5 String Violins for a fee.  I sold probably six or seven of them before finding a supplier in China that was willing to make them for me directly.  So in 2004, I started importing Five string violins under my own TwoTree brand for sale in the US and Europe.  Below are some pictures of those instruments:

TwoTree Base-model Five String $899 with HSC
TwoTree Dragon Head Five String $999 with HSC

While I still play a five string fiddle in my Celtic group, Celticado, I don't import them any more.  They are capricious and difficult to keep in tune.  The C (low) strings tend not to sound very good, even on the higher quality instruments, due to the short length of the neck.  I can still get the TwoTree violins by special order for customers that are interested.  I have a video here of me playing one.  I apologize for the sound.  It was recorded in my basement ten or eleven years ago.

Mandolin / Guitar Picks

Tusq White
The type of pick you use affects how you play and the tone you create. That's why we created TUSQ picks, the world's first and only pick with 3 distinct levels of harmonics. By formulating our proprietary material, we created a whole new class of picks, with highly resonant characteristics that produce three distinctive tones: Bright, Warm and Deep. TUSQ picks have a feel and articulation like no other picks on the market, very reminiscent of vintage tortoise shell, crisp tone, and thin, yet stiff. White is Bright, when you want your tone clean, clear, precise and rich in harmonic content.

Tusq Warm
The type of pick you use affects how you play and the tone you create. That's why we created TUSQ picks, the world's first and only pick with 3 distinct levels of harmonics. By formulating our proprietary material, we created a whole new class of picks, with highly resonant characteristics that produce three distinctive tones: Bright, Warm and Deep. TUSQ picks have a feel and articulation like no other picks on the market, very reminiscent of vintage tortoise shell, crisp tone, and thin, yet stiff. Bronze is Warm. Our vintage colored pick will Warm it up a bit

Tusq Deep
The type of pick you use affects how you play and the tone you create. That's why we created TUSQ picks, the world's first and only pick with 3 distinct levels of harmonics. By formulating our proprietary material, we created a whole new class of picks, with highly resonant characteristics that produce three distinctive tones: Bright, Warm and Deep. TUSQ picks have a feel and articulation like no other picks on the market, very reminiscent of vintage tortoise shell, crisp tone, and thin, yet stiff. TUSQ charcoal colored picks go Deep to give you a smooth, very warm feel and tone. 

Optima Mandolin Strings

Optima - Hand Polished - Made in Germany
SKU: OC2105
World famous and popular due to their amazing sound characteristics with extremely long durability. Countless orchestras play our STRINGS CHROME and express its excellent quality every day. Years of development, the right selection of the best materials, and especially the exclusive handwork during the production of the string are its secret. Finely polished, they offer an inimitable feel combined with the best sound. These strings are available with ball as Ball-End version with a 10% surcharge.

SKU: OS4105
The CHROME SPECIAL STRINGS are a further development of our CHROME STRINGS. The use of slightly modified alloys and the special polishing which was developed only for this set, create a set of strings that emphasizes the mandolin sound even much better. A top quality product „Made in Germany“. These strings are available with ball as Ball End version with a 10% surcharge.

SKU: OMS2145
The OPTIMA SILVER STRINGS for mandolin convince mainly with the sound of the silver plated D and G strings and have a traditional posy (Sträußchen) at the string end. This string is suitable for beginners, but also for advanced students and professionals. These strings are available with ball as Ball End version with a 10% surcharge.

GOLDIN STRINGS are characterized by a selection of the finest materials. The D and G strings are wound with Tombak and finely polished. Years of development, the right selection of the best materials and especially the exclusive handwork during the production of this string are here the secret, too. These strings are available with ball as Ball-End version with a 10% surcharge.

What is a Mandolin, introduction to my online lesson series

Bulldog F5 Mandolin
A mandolin (Italian: mandolino pronounced [mandoˈliːno]; literally "small mandola") is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is usually plucked with a plectrum or "pick". It commonly has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison (8 strings), although five (10 strings) and six (12 strings) course versions also exist. The courses are normally tuned in a succession of perfect fifths. It is the soprano member of a family that includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello and mandobass.

There are many styles of mandolin, but three are common, the Neapolitan or round-backed mandolin, the carved-top mandolin and the flat-backed mandolin. The round-back has a deep bottom, constructed of strips of wood, glued together into a bowl. The carved-top or arch-top mandolin has a much shallower, arched back, and an arched top—both carved out of wood. The flat-backed mandolin uses thin sheets of wood for the body, braced on the inside for strength in a similar manner to a guitar. Each style of instrument has its own sound quality and is associated with particular forms of music. Neapolitan mandolins feature prominently in European classical music and traditional music. Carved-top instruments are common in American folk music and bluegrass music. Flat-backed instruments are commonly used in Irish, British and Brazilian folk music. Some modern Brazilian instruments feature an extra fifth course tuned a fifth lower than the standard fourth course.

Other mandolin varieties differ primarily in the number of strings and include four-string models (tuned in fifths) such as the Brescian and Cremonese, six-string types (tuned in fourths) such as the Milanese, Lombard and the Sicilian and 6 course instruments of 12 strings (two strings per course) such as the Genoese.There has also been a twelve-string (three strings per course) type and an instrument with sixteen-strings (four strings per course).

I have several mandolins for sale, listed here

Much of mandolin development revolved around the soundboard (the top). Pre-mandolin instruments were quiet instruments, strung with as many as six courses of gut strings, and were plucked with the fingers or with a quill. However, modern instruments are louder—using four courses of metal strings, which exert more pressure than the gut strings. The modern soundboard is designed to withstand the pressure of metal strings that would break earlier instruments. The soundboard comes in many shapes—but generally round or teardrop-shaped, sometimes with scrolls or other projections. There is usually one or more sound holes in the soundboard, either round, oval, or shaped like a calligraphic f (f-hole). A round or oval sound hole may be covered or bordered with decorative rosettes or purfling.

I have started an online mandolin lesson series offered for free on my Youtube channel.  If you like what you have learned and want to support me, you can send me a donation through my PayPal channel, or my Patreon.  Lesson I can be found here, Lesson 2 here. Thank you!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The History of The Waltz

The Waltz 
The Waltz is the oldest of the ballroom dances, dating from the middle of the Eighteenth Century. The German "Lander", a folk dance, is supposed to be the forerunner of the Waltz. During this time period a dance developed which was called the "Walzer", a word owing its origin to the Latin word Volvere, which indicates a rotating motion. Napoleon's invading solders spread the waltz from Germany to Paris; then the dance glided across the channel to England and finally made its way to the United States.

When the Waltz was first introduced into the ballrooms of the world in the early years of the Nineteenth Century, it was met with outraged indignation, for it was the first dance where the couple danced in a modified Closed Position - with the man's hand around the waist of the lady.

Beginning about 1830, the waltz was given a tremendous boost by two Austrian composers Lanner and Strauss. They set the standard for the Viennese Waltz, a very fast version played at about 55 - 60 measures per minute. The fast tempo did indeed present problems. Much of the enjoyment of the new dance was lost in the continual strain to keep up with the music.

It is not known exactly when the waltz was introduced to the United States. It was probably brought to New York and Philadelphia at about the same time, and by the middle of the Nineteenth Century was firmly established in United States society.

During the later part of the Nineteenth Century, Waltzes were being written to a slower tempo than the original Viennese rhythm. Around the close of the Nineteenth Century, two modifications of the waltz developed in the United States. The first was the "Boston", a slower waltz with long gliding steps; there were fewer and slower turns and more forward and backward movement than in the Viennese Waltz. This version eventually stimulated the development of the English or International Style which continues today. The American Style Waltz is similar to the International Style except the American Style has open dance positions and the dancers legs pass instead of close. The second modification was the "Hesitation Waltz", which involves taking one step to three beats of the measure. Although the "Hesitation Waltz" is no longer danced, some of it's step patterns are still in use today.

Today both the faster Viennese Waltz, made forever popular by the Strauss family, and the slower American and International style waltzes are extremely popular today with dancers of all ages.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Mozart - String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K465 'Dissonance'

The String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart*, nicknamed "Dissonance" on account of its unusual slow introduction, is perhaps the most famous of his quartets. It is the last in the set of six quartets composed between 1782 and 1785 that he dedicated to "A Very Celebrated Man": Joseph Haydn.
Although legends persist regarding Mozart’s rivalries with other composers, he established a friendship with Haydn that was untainted by envy and characterized by mutual admiration. Haydn asserted to Mozart’s father,

"I tell you, before God and as an honest man, that your son is the greatest composer known to me, either in person or by name. He has taste, and, what is more, a most thorough knowledge of composition."

Mozart, for his part, spoke equally highly of Haydn in his dedication:

"Your good opinion encourages me to offer the[se string quartets] to you, and leads me to hope that you will not consider them wholly unworthy of your favor. Please, then, receive them kindly and be to them a father, guide, and friend!"

According to the catalog of works Mozart began early the preceding year, the quartet was completed on 14 January, 1785.

As is normal with Mozart's later quartets, it is in four movements:

  1. Adagio-Allegro
  2. Andante cantabile in F major
  3. Menuetto. Allegro. (C major, trio in C minor)
  4. Allegro molto

The first movement opens with ominous quiet Cs in the cello, joined successively by the viola (on A♭ moving to a G), the second violin (on E♭), and the first violin (on A), thus creating the "dissonance" itself and narrowly avoiding a greater one. This lack of harmony and fixed key continues throughout the slow introduction before resolving into the bright C major of the Allegro section of the first movement, which is in sonata form withe fugues and counterpoint (Thematic Workings)

Mozart goes on to use chromatic and whole tone scales to outline fourths. Arch shaped lines emphasizing fourths in the first violin (C – F – C) and the violoncello (G – C – C' – G') are combined with lines emphasizing fifths in the second violin and viola. Over the bar line between the second and third measures of the example, a fourth-suspension can be seen in the second violin's tied C. In another of his string quartets, KV 464, such fourth-suspensions are also very prominent.

The second movement is in sonatina form, i.e., lacking the development section. Alfred Einstein writes of the coda of this movement that "the first violin openly expresses what seemed hidden beneath the conversational play of the subordinate theme".

The third movement is a minuet and trio, with the exuberant mood of the minuet darkening into the C minor of the trio.

The last movement is also in sonata form.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Joseph Haydn's Quartet Opus 33 was the inspiration for this one, itself a set of six string quartets. Taken together, Mozart’s six are known as the Haydn Quartets (written 1782–85).


*Mozart – Quartet in C major, K465 (Dissonance)', lecture by Professor Roger Parker, followed by a performance by the Badke Quartet, Gresham College, 10 October 2007
** Mozart - A Life, by Maynard Solomon, available on

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Fiddler's Bow For Sale - $209

This carbon fiber bow was designed for the fiddle player in mind.  It has a slightly higher balance point (between 9 and 10" from the frog) than a standard French bow.  The tip is very slightly heavier than a standard French bow.  The end result is that it's easier to play fast at the tip without "choking up" the stick.

I take PayPal.  I'll ship it anywhere in the US for an additional $25.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Here’s what music sounds like through an auditory implant

For some people with severe hearing loss, it is possible to restore their hearing with an auditory implant (also known as cochlear implants). These electronic devices are surgically implanted into the inner ear, converting the sound from the world into electrical signals that are sent through the auditory nerve to the brain. The damaged parts of the ear are bypassed and people are – almost miraculously – able to hear again. With practice, auditory implant users emerge from a world of silence able to hear the doorbell, to use the phone, to talk and laugh with their friends. Unfortunately, though, music can be hard to enjoy. Smooth melodies become harsh buzzes, beeps and squawks.

People with auditory implants find that much of what they used to love about music is now absent. The implant is poor at conveying the pitch of voices and instruments, as well as the quality (timbre) of the music. This can make it hard to follow the melody, understand the lyrics, or separate one instrument from another. As you can hear in our simulation (below), almost all of the raw, untrammelled emotion that Ed Sheeran brings to his performance of Thinking Out Loud is lost, leaving the music abrasive and flat.

This poor transmission of music through the implant can have an enormous impact on people’s quality of life. Music is all around us, not just at home or in concerts but also in the background in cafes, pubs, shops, TV shows and films. For people with auditory implants, this can make it hard to enjoy things they previously loved to do. People tell us that music is one of the main things they would like to be improved in their implant. This presents a challenge for engineers and scientists.

The trouble with music
In healthy hearing, the sound of music is captured by the activity of thousands of highly sensitive “hair cells” – sensory receptors that respond to minute changes in pressure in the ear, translating sound into electrical activity that can be interpreted by the brain. This extraordinary sensory system is able to code the tiny fluctuations in sound that we interpret as notes, instruments, timbre and emotional resonance. It is this complex coding that allows us to enjoy the melodic voice of Mr Sheeran. In an auditory implant, that system is replaced by a tiny number of micro-electrodes – usually between eight and 22. These electrodes are only able to transmit very crude pitch information, missing the more detailed sound information.

Over time, some people with auditory implants are able to adjust to their new hearing, finding ways to enjoy and love music again. They often find that they must actively learn to enjoy music again to adjust to their new experience. Others have decided to engage with it differently, reading the lyrics while they listen to improve their understanding. Because the implant is able to transmit rhythm much more effectively than pitch, some users find that they can only enjoy certain, more rhythmic genres of music (such as the Michael Jackson song in our simulation). Some, amazingly, have even learned to play instruments when using an implant.

New approaches may hold the key to helping people with implants enjoy music again. One possibility is modifying musical tracks or even writing entirely new music specifically for implants, with qualities that can be more easily transferred by existing technology. For example, researchers have found that increasing the volume of the vocals and removing harmonic instruments improves the experience of listening to pop music.

Another option is changing the way that sounds are processed by the implant before sending the signals to the auditory nerve. Several implant makers now advertise their cutting-edge processing as best for listening to music. However, most implant users are still unable to enjoy music.

It may be necessary to take a radically new approach. We think that the information bottleneck at the implant could be bypassed by providing sound information through the sense of touch. We have recently used this approach to improve implant users’ ability to understand speech in complex sound environments – perhaps we can improve their experience of music too.

Les Poules huppées

CRESTED HENS, THE (Les Poules huppées). French, Bourrée à 3 temps (3/8 time). E Dorian. Standard tuning (fiddle). Composed in 1983 by French...