Hank's Notes

Over a decade ago Roxanne Valadao, Executive Director of Plumas Arts, asked Shaidri and me to join a lineup of acts for a St. Patrick's Day concert, to be held at the lovely Town Hall Theater in Quincy, California. We accepted, electing to be the opening act for the concert, and decided on a brief, all-instrumental program of fiddle tunes, billing ourselves as Blarney's Ghost. We put together a set that included a few fiddle tune medleys, including this one. I really enjoyed it then, and when Doug joined us to became a trio, we jumped at the opportunity to add his cello to this medley. I love this stuff, and look forward to having something similar on every recording we do. Here's how we explained it to that audience:

Many are unaware of the biography of the legendary Celtic freedom fighter, Blarney Stone, whom, in his flight from persecution, was taken in wholeheartedly by the Irish, and in memory of whom we take our name. Blarney Stone is revered through history not only for his heroic battlefield escapades, but also for his evolution of a system for securely exchanging critical military information encrypted in the form of long and incomprehensible stories, now known as "tall tales". These fables were so long and convoluted that anyone overhearing might justifiably and incredulously conclude that no useful information could possibly be gleaned even from the closest listening.

To this day people invoke the spirit and memory of the heroic and legendary Blarney Stone when, confronted with an outlandish story, a scarcely believable tale, they proclaim, "Oh, BS!"

Blarney Castle

Fletcher's Notes

Hank first proposed this instrumental medley as an extension of fiddle tunes he and Shaidri were already performing. As I listened to them running through the tunes with Doug, the titles and moods provoked an epiphanous moment in which I imagined an unfolding saga. To be clear (at least as far as a prim musicologist is wont to be), the tunes are not from the same historical nor cultural context. The Rights of Man celebrates the 18th century Age of Enlightenment in Europe and America. Old French is a 20th century revival of an older, obscure fiddle tune (reputedly so named because New England and Canadian fiddlers in the '30's referred to it as that "old French reel"). And The Battle of Aughrim occurred in 1691 in Ireland, when the Jacobites were defeated by the Williamites. But, praise be, imagination is not bounded by time, space or historical correctness. Blessed ignorance left me unencumbered by facts, so here is what I heard:

Liberté, égalité, fraternité! Has there been a more succinct cry for revolution? History reminds us that conflict typically begins with fervent calls-to-arms intoned in noble words and lofty ideals. And so we have sent our young sons and our aging fathers into the fray - to unshackle (or enslave) a people, to protect the homeland (or conquer another's), to defend the faith (or defeat the infidel), to insure (or control) the security of the people. Joyously trumpeted is the call-to-arms, which opens here with a modest statement from a lone minstrel's guitar. As the march proceeds, the ranks are swelled first by the cello, then coming to fullness with the entrance of the violin. Ah, Johnny, we clearly knew ya! The women and children and men-too-old-for-war all watch with shining faces as the troop marches beyond the rise to whatever fate, noble or otherwise, awaits. For whatever the cost, the Rights of Man must be secured for all!

For those left behind, there is little but to wait. And in a tiny Irish cottage huddled by the hearth, a family honors the courage of their distant husband and sons. Surely there is sadness in their absence, and concern, too, for their safety. But is their cause not just? Are they not marching into battle to secure those sacred Rights of Man? For those who keep the home fires burning, this, then, must be a time of celebration! Mother says, "Play that old french tune!" Grandpa's guitar and Uncle's cello begin a happy jig. Sister joins in with her fiddle, and soon all are dancing as Celtic dervishes in the throes of their love and convictions. But the exuberant strings turn mournful as the distant rumblings of destruction intrude. The door is thrown back and the cold wind of death chills the family's warmth.

Standing at the threshold, the youngest boy has returned from the war without Father and his older brothers. Behind him is the aftermath of that terrible conflict. As he limps feebly into his home, Mother weeps - tears both of joy for his return and of deep sadness for her fine men lost. Boy no more, his face has been ravaged by the cruelties he has seen and inflicted, and much more of him than his wounded limbs will never heal from that damned old war. Johnny, we hardly knew ya! Yes, the cause was just and its soldiers noble. But the Battle was lost at a frightful cost. War will continue, and Aughrim will never be the same. A dialectic - a medley - to be replayed again, ...seemingly without end?

Ain't gonna study war no more!


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rev. 1/6/10