On hearing my arrangements played live for the first time

I had a little trouble getting to sleep last night. I think it was because I was excited. I still am. I had a rehearsal with Fagroongala and it went really well.

We worked on three new songs: Quand j'étais jeune, À la claire fontaine, and The Broomfield Hill. I find it absolutely thrilling to hear live the arrangements that I've wanted to play for so many years! In addition, À la claire fontaine, Which I only arranged this month, but is a song that I've wanted to do for most of my life, now sounds exactly as I had always hoped — lush, tender and full of warmth. The bowed bass and viola on it sounds spectacular.

The other two songs, Quand j'étais jeune and The Broomfield Hill, I always feared were too complicated. At first I thought the arrangements might be too complex for me to be able to sing and play at the same time. Then, after I learned them and started playing them in my solo performances, I was afraid that they wouldn't really connect with audiences because the rhythms, chords and lead lines change so much throughout; perhaps there was nothing to hook on to; perhaps I was just being a music nerd. But I still loved them and wanted so much for people to hear the other instruments that I had envisioned — syncopated bass lines and fiddle lead lines and harmonies. Perhaps those additions would really win listeners over the way the complex arrangements of Barde, Planxty, Andy Irvine and Paul Brady have won me over and made me a dedicated fan.

I often muse that making music is a lot like telling a joke — but the most important tool for either skill is sharing a common language between performer and listener. Music is like a language, as is often said, but I have a fluency in it that the average listener does not. So there is often a danger that my musical jokes will be lost on audiences. I think this is even more likely when I perform solo because it is only between the listener and me alone that any connection can be made. In other words, the effect of me playing a complicated musical idea that nobody gets is the same as me losing my place and playing it wrong. There is no point of reference to measure how intentional my playing is.

But when I play with other musicians, they are in on the joke. Even if no one else gets it, they will. And audiences must feel that connection, that pleasure, that focus, and I suspect that it is contagious.

Of course, this assumes that the music I give the other musicians actually does give them some pleasure, and I was uncertain that this would be the case. Would I find people able and willing to learn songs for which every verse is different, which require several pages of notes for each three-minute peace, and which often require techniques that are unfamiliar to them? Would that be a pleasure or a chore? Considering the many bands that I've been in who perform with little or no rehearsal, and never any written charts, it seemed the latter would be more likely, especially since I am unable at the moment to pay anyone for the rehearsal time.

But I was wrong. Brittany Goldsborough and Jane Russell have invested a lot of time in rehearsing with Fagroongala, and it seems that the more complicated arrangements are more enticing to them than the plain ones. I suppose some people, like me, really love to have something they can sink their teeth into. This must be true of audiences as well, at least to some extent.

In any case, I am delighted. With a band, the songs are not only complex, not only do they have obvious intent and focus, but they also have such drama! When three people seamlessly change time signature together, that is such an attention grabber! When we match dynamics and tempo, it transforms the song from a small bird of an idea inside one person's head into a spectacular synchronized flock taking flight in the wild. I am very eager to bring more of my formerly secret arrangements to this group, and I can't wait to share them with audiences!

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