Original tunes from ‘Til Time Is No More  HERE.

Original tunes from A Stroll in the Park  HERE.

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About tune names

I tend to name my tunes from personal experiences. My jig, “Katie Farrell’s” honors my grandmother, Mary Katherine Farrell Mallette, who loved music. “Robin’s Nest” was named for the bed & breakfast where we had an our tenth anniversary party that included a great session. “Caterpillar” was named for Miss Caterpillar, our pennywhistle-loving cat.

Many traditional Irish tune names reflect the Irish character: their humor, whimsey, love of word play (especially the double entendre), devotion to Irish history, and the frankness of the Irish language. The piper O’Farrell published a piping tutor in England around 1795. Among the tunes included was a jig he called “O’Farrell’s Welcome to Limerick.” The Irish title for this tune is “An Phis Fhliuch,” which describes a certain part of the female anatomy. We wonder exactly what O’Farrell’s welcome might have been. Alternate titles for this same tune are “The Choice Wife” and “The Bridegroom’s Delight.” More than one meaning may be inferred from titles like “The Bird in the Bush” and “The Gander in the Pratie Hole” (potato patch). One can wonder what went on “Behind the Haystack” or with “The Maid Behind the Bar.”

It is no surprise that an oral tradition would result in many tunes adopting different names in different places (in Ireland or around the world). The tune called “The Cuil Aodha Jig” (after the town of the same name) that I play on A Stroll In The Park is also known as “The Maid That Cut Off The Chicken’s Lips.” The website www.thesession.org lists hundreds of Irish tunes and gives many alternate names for each. Some of the lists are amazing. The common reel, “George White’s Favorite” is variously known as “George White’s Fancy,” “Bessie Sweeney,” “Sweeney’s,” “The Boys Of Carrowcastle,” “The Carrowcastle Lasses,”  “The Reeler,” and “Rogha Sheoirse De Faoite.”

To increase the confusion, a given name may be attached to more than one tune. I’m not sure how many separate reels are called “Toss the Feathers.” There are two different jigs named “The Gold Ring,” and two named “The Pipe on the Hob.” There is a “Mooncoin” jig and a “Mooncoin” reel.

How does a new tune happen?

During my years of playing Irish flute I’ve learned hundreds of traditional tunes (and forgotten dozens). I set aside a certain amount of practice time to “noodle around” on my flute or just think about the tunes I know. Occasionally a new musical phrase comes to mind or falls out of my whistle or flute. Some of these phrases may grow. Some eventually become full blown tunes.

Once a new tune reaches a certain level, I use the ABC system to write it down, so I can come back in a few weeks and see if it still seems worth keeping. Eventually I may add it to the “pile” of tunes I might like to keep up with and play more often. On my two solo CDs I’ve recorded many of my tunes that I think might be worthy. A small number have made it into our local sessions, including Brings a Smile, Black Mountain, Katie Farrell’s and Hotfoot Polka, which we put with Nell Fees’ Polka.