Two old jigs, and a few stories behind them

Selma and Rose

Two old jigs, and a few stories behind them
Two old jigs, and a few stories behind them
Episode Trailer

Most of the Irish traditional jigs and reels I play have associations, information, history, and sentiments bundled into them. Even these dance tunes that have no words carry so much. And everybody who plays these tunes bears and shares more than just a few notes and rhythms. In this episode, flute player and piper Emer Mayock, harp player Andrea Kiupel-Grona, and banjo/harmonica player Don Meade share Rose in the Heather and Maid of Selma lore

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Thank you to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters: Susan Walsh, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Gerry Corr, Jonathan Duvick, Sean Carroll, Isobel McMahon, Ian Bittle, Finian McCluskey, Kieran Jordan, John Ploch, Brian Benscoter, Chris Murphy, Irish & Celtic Music Podcast, David Vaughan, Suezen Brown, and Paul DeCamp.

Episode 60 – Selma and Rose

Two old jigs, and a few stories behind them

This Irish Music Stories episode aired May 17, 2022
https://www.shannonheatonmusic.com/Episode-60-Selma-and-Rose

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Speakers, in order of appearance
>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories 

>> Don Meade: New York based Harmonica & banjo player, author and concert producer

>> Emer Mayock: County Mayo born musician & composer, drawn to both traditional and recently composed tunes. 

>> Nigel Heaton: young announcer for Irish Music Stories

>> Andrea Kiupel-Grona: Germany-based harp player

——

>> Shannon: I’m Shannon Heaton, and this is Irish Music Stories. 

[ Music: “Free the Heel,” from Kitchen Session

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

The show about traditional music and the bigger stories behind it…

…Like all the associations, and information, and history, and sentiments I’ve bundled into each little jig and reel I play. Even the dance tunes that have no words carry so much. And I think everybody who plays these tunes bears and shares more than just a few notes and rhythms.

I’m particularly sensitive to this non-musical stuff. I think it’s important—and interesting. It’s fun to play something and think about another musician you know who plays that same tune, or who taught you the tune. Sometimes I can even ‘hear’ certain people playing beside me, even when I’m all alone.

[ Music: “D Chimes” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

Like when I play the Rose in the Heather, I think of the time Tommy Peoples was living up the road in Malden, Massachusetts. My husband Matt took some fiddle lessons from him, and Tommy gave Matt this note: a little turn in the pickup to the second phrase.

Instead of ABd e-e | f#

He had this ABd e-a | f#

Tommy Peoples had a lot of bigger inventions, and compositions, and contributions to Irish music. But that little note is my favorite.

[ Music: “Rose on [sic] the Heather,” from The Quiet Glen (An Gleann Ciúin)

Artist: Tommy Peoples ]

I remember teaching the Rose in the Heather — with Tommy’s note — to Steve and Marilyn and the Acadia gang in a classroom in Bar Harbor, Maine.

I remember playing it with my friends Kerstin in Mainz, Germany, and Yuka in Tokyo, and Mick in Bangkok. I remember playing it in Ennis with Siobhan and Murt and Seamus and Geraldine and Kevin. In fact, the Rose in the Heather is also called The Corofin— Corofin is in Clare, just north of Ennis… even though the tune actually comes from the Sliabh Luachra region (in the South west of Ireland).

Buut… the first person to record the tune was James Morrison from County Sligo. He was a dancer and fiddle player who emigrated to America in 1915, and became one of the leading Irish music teachers in New York in the 30s and 40s. He probably taught this tune to a lot of Irish musicians.

In 1929, he recorded it for Columbia records with accordion player PJ Conlon and an unidentified piano player.

[ Music: “The Rose in the Heather,” from Publisher: New York : Columbia

c/o Irish Traditional Music Archive

Artists: James Morrison, Peter Conlon, and anon.

http://www.itmacatalogues.ie/Portal/Default/RecordView/Index/23391]

Almost twenty years later, Joe Maguire’s Pride Of Erne Orchestra recorded the Rose in the Heather. And then it showed up in a printed collection of tunes compiled by accordion player Jerry O’Brien (with help from fiddle and accordion player John McGrath ).

Jerry came to Boston from County Cork in 1921. And like James Morrison in New York, Jerry had a busy performing and teaching career. One of his star pupils was Boston accordion legend Joe Derrane. 

You can hear reissues of the 78 rpm records that Jerry and Joe made from 1928 through the early 1950s on a re-release called Irish Accordion Masters— Rose in the Heather is on there, recorded in 1948. So it was definitely one of the tunes that Jerry was passing on to new generations of players.

[ Music: “Rose in the Heather,” from Irish Accordion Masters

Artist: Jerry O’Brien ]

Then in 1963 Breandán Breathnach also included Rose in the Heather in his first Ceol Rince na hÉireann book. In Breathnach’s books, he notated tunes the way that various musicians actually played the tunes (with ornaments and melodic variations). 

[ Music: “D Mutey Big Build” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

And this was his way of showing how the tunes might actually be played vs. offering one simpler skeleton version, like a lot of tune books do. For the Rose in the Heather, Breathnach notated the tunes from fiddle player Tommy Potts played it.

By the 1970s, the tune starts showing up everywhere. It’s recorded by ceili bands, solo artists, popular acts. It appears in tune collections. It’s a common session tune for players from Dublin to Kyoto.

I’m not sure where I got the Rose in the Heather. It’s just one that I kind of picked up. I heard it in sessions in Chicago, where I started out; in Clare where my husband Matt and I spent many winters; in Colorado where I hiked and biked for two years; and in Boston, my adopted home since 2001. I feel like it was one of the first jigs I really knew.

And it’s a good tune to go into from other tunes. Because it’s customary in Irish music to string a few tunes together into a set. What some traditions call a ‘medley.’ With a set of two or three tunes, the action lasts a little longer—it gives the dancers more to work with. And if you change key signatures from one tune to the next, or pair a couple of tunes with different moods, it can give the music some direction. There’s somewhere to go.

I love building sets of tunes. I think there’s a lot of art in that. But there’s also a lot of art in enjoying  one tune at a time. Giving it some space. Visiting the music and the lore of the one tune, all on its own.

[ Music: “Rose in the Heather,” from Kitchen Session

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

>> Don: I tend to think of the tunes one at a time, each one of them is its own little history in itself, the name or names might suggest where you seen it in a book, or heard it on a recording. You might think about who you learned it from, who you played it with over the years.

>> Shannon: That’s Don Meade in New York. He plays banjo and harmonica and produces concerts. And he’s a walking encyclopedia of tunes. 

>> Don: The Rose in the Heather to me calls up memories of listening to James Morrison’s 78 rpm recording that was reissued in the 70s. Each tune is not just a string of notes, it’s a little capsule of Irish music history, and I cherish the memories that go along with each one of them.

[ Music: “Rose in the Heather,” from Kitty Lie Over

Artists: Mick O’Brien & Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh ]

>> Shannon: If I were to play the Rose in the Heather in a set today, I might play it with Maid of Selma. Mostly because I’ve been thinking about and enjoying that tune recently. So it’s on the top of my mind. And also I think doing them together might be interesting. Rose is in D, Maid is in G. 

And the names sound sweet together: The Maid of Selma, The Rose in the Heather. Maid of Selma sounds like it could be an heirloom variety of rose… 

I’m pretty sure I first heard Maid of Selma from Chicago accordion player Jimmy Keane when he played with Mick Moloney at an Old Town School of Folk Music concert in Chicago. Though back then it didn’t register as Maid of Selma for me. It’s just today when I found it on their 1988 album Kilkelly that I kind of remember hearing it back in the day.

[ Music: “Maid of Selma,” from Kilkelly

Artists: Jimmy Keane, Mick Moloney ]

I also heard it on Emer Mayock’s 1996 flute album, Merry Bits of Timber. Emer recorded the track with Eamon O’Leary on guitar. I asked her about it, and if she remembered coming to The Maid of Selma in those heady 1990s

>> Emer: I’m thinking back to that time. And it was quite a different time in terms of the availabity and the search for tunes. I mean, I guess I had quite a big repertoire. But I was always looking for tunes. And I guess a way of doing that would have been travelling around the country, around Ireland to various sessions and festivals and all that. And at the time I lived in Dublin. And you would record on a cassette tape a lot of music—and then come back and kind of troll through it and pick out new repertoire.

Another thing I did at that time was access music through the public library in Dublin, the ILAC library. And they had really quite a good music section, in all genres. But they had quite a good amount of traditional music which you could borrow. And that is where I came across Jimmy Keane playing the Maid of Selma.

>> Shannon: So she found the tune on a recording from the library. It’s even easier to find and hear performances of tunes now—on YouTube, or archives  online … But it’s still just as thrilling to come across a tune that really speaks to you.  And it’s kind of interesting to try to put the emotion that you feel for a tune … into words.

>> Emer: You know, it has this phrasing, this melodic phrase that’s quite long. 

>> Shannon: Yeah. Even though it adds up to just eight bars in each A part, there are long phrases in there, which she really brought out in her recording,.

[ Music: “Maid of Selma,” from Merry Bits of Timber

Artists: Emer Mayock & Eamon O’Leary ]

Emer: It sort of keeps pushing outwards and outwards. Also, the second part is unusual. The melody line is quite long.

Shannon: Here’s the first eight bars of the B part.

And now there’s a second eight bars of the B part. (Maybe we call it a C part.)

And then that whole second section repeats.

So the first and second parts are not symmetrical, and they’re sort of complex.

>> Emer: That doesn’t seem to encroach on the sort of… the bounce in the tune. And the accessibility to this really lovely strong melody.

I’ve gone back to that tune quite a lot over the years. And I love it very much, the Maid of Selma. It’s a great, great tune. And unusual. And yet another kind of treasure that you find, and enjoy, and always have a relationship with. So I’m very glad you asked me to remember that tune. Thank you!

>> Shannon: I’m glad to share Emer’s thoughts about Maid of Selma.. And talk about these little tunes—and the bigger stories behind them. 

[ Music: “Heartstrings Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

And I’m so grateful to this month’s supporters. Here’s my kid Nigel to thank you

>> Nigel: Thank you to Susan Walsh, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Gerry Corr, Jonathan Duvick, Sean Carroll, Isobel McMahon, Ian Bittle, Finian McCluskey, Kieran Jordan, John Ploch, Brian Benscoter, Chris Murphy, Irish & Celtic Music Podcast, David Vaughan, Suezen Brown, and Paul DeCamp.

>> Shannon: In the Mattt, Shannon, and Nigel Heaton home, it was the Virtual Guided Session that moved this tune from vaguely familiar… to family favorite. 

Matt and I had been running these online YouTube sessions for about a year (our response to the pandemic). And during a livestream last May, Andrea and Michael in Odenwald Germany requested Maid of Selma. I told them I’d have it for next week. Here’s the livestream from that next week, with me and Matt on camera, responding to the lively chat on YouTube.

>> Shannon & Matt livestream: So last week, people wanted to hear the Maid of Selma. The Maid of Selma—I know this tune. I like this tune! I thought it was a modern composition. I looked it up. Emer Mayock recorded it on her wonderful album The Merry Bits of Timber some years ago. I think that’s how I associated the tune. And Jimmy Keane playing it as well. Thought it was a new tune. And I looked it up. It’s in O’Neill’s! It’s #250 in O’Neill’s 1850 tunes. So that means it was published in 1903. It’s an oldie! Who knew? And it sounds kind of modern. It’s a beauty.

Matt: I love that tune!

Shannon: It’s a beauty. So is everybody here. A real beautiful community we got going on here. Folks, you’re great! You’re great. And I can’t believe, Sean Morris, that at your local session your bouzouki player takes care of elephants. Like at a zoo, I assume?…..

>> Shannon: I will forever associate Maid of Selma—and elephants—with this online community of Irish music lovers, who banded together, encouraged one another, and showed up for these weekly Virtual Guided Sessions, established in 2020.

[ Music: Mutey Big Build reprise ]

117 years before that, Chicago police Captain Francis O’Neill included Maid of Selma in his Music of Ireland. I’ll speak extensively about O’Neill’s collection of 1850 dance tunes in next month’s episode. Hope you’ll come back for that.

Maid of Selma is #250 in O’Neill’s book, putting it in the songs and airs category and not with the rest of the jigs. That may partly explain the longer, unusual form of the second part.

>> Shannon: When I asked our Virtual Guided Session friend Andrea how she came to the tune, she told me she’d been playing it with friends over Zoom.

>> Andrea: The first time I heard this tune Maid of Selma was about two years ago. It was during the lockdowns. We met our local session friends regularly via Zoom. And we shared new session sets. And our fiddle player Ulli discovered a YouTube video of this tune, and was excited and suggested us Maid of Selma.

>> Shannon: So they’d heard a video of fiddle and guitar duo Kevin Lees and Sebastian Bloch in Denmark. And like Emer—and like me—Andrea heard something really special in this tune.

>> Andrea: I thought what a treasure. What a lightness, and an elegance, and an enjoyment of life. Since then it’s such a pleasure for me playing it on my harp, mostly in accompaniment with flute.

[ Music: “Maid of Selma,” from Kitchen Recording

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

>> Shannon: When I asked Don Meade in New York about Maid of Selma, he told me that before it appeared in Captain Francis O’Neill’s Music of Ireland, it was a Scottish tune. He guessed that Francis O’Neill got it from either an early Scottish collection … or from Ryan’s Mammoth Collection published in Boston in 1882.

Maid of Selma is on page 145 of the Mammoth Collection. And it’s pretty close to how O’Neill has it in his book.  The Traditional Tune Archive and The National Library of Scotland both call Maid of Selma a variation of an old melody found in Neil Stewart’s Collection of Scots Songs. That’s from 1772.  When I checked that version out—it’s called My Nanio in that collection—boy, I heard something really, really different.

[ Musical Demo ]

It’s also in the Scottish Musical Museum from 1790—that is an incredible book title. And here’s how the tune goes in Volume 3 of that collection, it’s number 275. 

[ Musical Demo ]

This feels pretty different from

[ plays phrase of Maid of Selma ]

This is not the Maid of Selma that I’ve fallen in love with.

So the Mammoth Collection and the O’Neill’s Collection: maybe those are the versions that actually gave this tune legs. Before then it was pretty obscure. Regardless, I wondered about the name’ Selma.’ 

[ “After Hours Theme” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

I know Selma, Alabama. I wondered if there was a place in Scotland or Ireland with that name. And Don also told me that Selma was a made-up place in one of James MacPherson’s “Ossianic” poems. These were epics that MacPherson (who was Scottish) said that he ‘discovered’ in 1761 from a 3rd-century bard. 

Well his claims didn’t hold up. But still, his so-called translations of these not really ancient texts were entertaining, beautiful, and got people interested in ancient legends.

And it inspired the name of Selma, Alabama — and this tune, Maid of Selma.

There’s always more to say about each tune, the more I go along. That’s the thing about a living tradition— it’s always changing, evolving, adjusting.

My thanks to Don, and Andrea, and Emer for sharing a few of their stories about these tunes. I really hope we’ll be able to play them together sometime—maybe next time I’m in Germany or Ireland. Though I might get to New York first—Don’s back at the Landmark in Hell’s Kitchen on Monday nights.

Hope you’ll come back next month for the O’Neill’s story next month.  But first, a few jigs…

[ Music: “Maid of Selma & Rose in the Heather,” from Kitchen Session

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

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Cast of Characters

Episode guests in order of appearance

Shannon Heaton

FLUTE/SINGING/PODCASTING

World-reared, Boston-based flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories 

Don Meade

BANJO/HARMONICA

New York based Harmonica & banjo player, author and concert producer

Emer Mayock

FLUTE/PIPES

County Mayo born musician & composer, drawn to both traditional and recently composed tunes

Germany-based harp player who enjoys traditional music with her partner in Odenwald

The Heaton List

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