Interview with Irish fiddler Manus McGuire

Manus McGuire, renowned Sligo fiddle player, now resident in East Clare. Grew up in a rich musical environment in the north west of Ireland and together with his fiddle playing brother Seamus, was ideally placed to carry on a tradition made legend by Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran and Lad O Beirne.

I am an Irish fiddle player who has for many years been involved in performing, recording, teaching and in more recent times, composition. Originally from Sligo and now resident in East Clare, I grew up in a rich musical environment in the North West of Ireland and together with my brother Seamus, I was ideally placed to carry on a fiddle tradition made legend by Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran and Lad O Beirne.


 

An Audio Interview with Manus McGuire

 


Also in this issue, Cajun Fiddler, Mitch Reed and Irish Fiddler, Tom Morley

 

 

An Interview with Professor V

An Interview with Professor V

Professor V's YouTube Channel

The Professor and I tried to have a telephone interview, but the tech wasn’t happening that day.
Todd Ehle, AKA Professor V, graciously provided answers to these questions I posed to him, and a video that will help improve your intonation. Thanks for being a supporter of iFiddle and thanks to ProfessorV, Todd Ehle for his video later in this article. You’ve got to check out his YouTube channel. 
View more info about Todd here. Todd Ehle

Thanks for talking with me today on behalf of iFiddle Magazine. I¹m sorry the recording didn’t work out, but those things happen.

iFiddle: Why is intonation so difficult for some? How can one develop their ear, and how much practice should one do daily?

TE: Having fine intonation is a two-pronged process; first we must learn how to listen, then we must develop our technique so our hands can create what we want to hear.I think ear-training is essential, and practicing with an electronic tuner is a great place to start. As for technique; I teach my students to contact the string in the same way every time, hitting the same point on the fingertip, feeling the thumb, lifting from the base knuckle, then memorizing the motions so them become automatic. Also, and this is critical; not to squeeze with the left hand. We always need to be able to make micro-adjustments with the fingers and if we are squeezing the neck this won’t be possible.
iFiddle: Improvisation. Old-time improvises a lot as well as jazz players, however I don¹t see too much in classical music.

iFIddle: Why do you think that is?

TE: If you go back far enough, the musician was actually EXPECTED to add all sorts of ornaments to the music, and were evaluated on how well they could to this. Composers gradually moved away from it by writing out every detail, probably because they wanted more control of their compositions, and possibly because they thought musicians were messing up their work!. The improvisational elements are back in style with performers who specialize in the music the Baroque and Classical periods. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of research to do this correctly, so most teachers shy away from it.

iFIddle: Why do you think some folks gravitate towards certain styles of music?

TE: I genuinely have no idea! With me, it¹s partly gravitating towards music I heard as a child, but also I have a real desire to keep learning. I’ve been a “Classical” violinist since I began studying, back in 1973, but I’ve been devoted to learning Irish fiddle since 2006.I try to keep the two worlds very separate when I play, but it¹s challenging to do so.

iFiddle: Is it more difficult for older students to learn violin or fiddle?

TE: The traditional answer to this is Yes, it is more difficult as an adult. I have many adult students, the ones that are impatient often struggle the most. Children usually learn without this burden, and at least when they are young, have no preconceived notion of where they are going. However, adults are often able to think, reason, plan, listen, and practice in ways a child can not. If the adult student is persistent and patient, they will learn. They may not become as good as their favorite fiddler, but sadly, this is the case with most of us! I think spending a life with the instrument, and trying to become better every single day, is the real reward.

iFiddle: I hear one thing and play another. This seems to happen to other students as well. Why?

TE: The goal is to do things automatically, or at a subconscious level. The reality is that this takes a lot of time, and requires a lot of repetition. When I have a struggling student I try to reduce the difficulties down to just a single problem, have them correct it,then repeat it multiple times (until they achieve the desired result), then add another layer of difficulty. If we practice this way, we feel successful with each small accomplishment,Instead of overwhelmed by the big picture. If a student really struggles, say in front of an audience, I¹ll have them work on a single note until they are able to achieve the desired result.

iFiddle: What can be done to get good timing where it¹s automatic? How can the pulse of a tune keep your timing solid?

TE: I have my students listening to their music constantly, trying to learn how to not only play notes, but how to fit into a specific style, and how to feel a groove. I also insist that my students practice with a metronome! Most students resist this, but I force it in lessons. It¹s no different than playing with a rhythm section, or playing in an ensemble.

iFiddle: The Suzuki method. Do you think this is the best method for students?

TE: I think a great teacher can teach with any system, or even no system. A good teacher listens, and plans out a path for each student. Learning via the Suzuki method has definite benefits with the development of the ear, and learning to recreate what they hear. This can be easily transfer to other styles of music that would be learned by ear, such as old-time or Irish Fiddling.

iFiddle: What music inspires you the most?

TE: I go through phases! I’ll just answer by saying it’s whatever I’m working on at the moment.

iFiddle: Why do you think some are more gifted, or talented than others?

TE: We all have gifts, and most of us also have weaknesses. I try not to concentrate on the weaknesses beyond attempting to improve them. Of course some have perfect pitch, some have brilliant reflex speed and coordination, some have photographic memories.These things together create what we call ‘Talent”. I realize music is extremely competitive at the highest levels, but I also know performing a simple piece, and doing it well, can bring tremendous pleasure to many people, and the self-discipline and process of discovery can bring great satisfaction to many others.

iFIddle: Who could you listen to and not get burned out?

TE: Itzhak Perlman and Kevin Burke, as well as many others!


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An Interview with Texas Fiddler Marty Elmore

An Interview with Texas Fiddler Marty Elmore

There are Texas fiddlers and there’s Marty Elmore. Marty is a down to earth guy and if you’ve ever heard him play, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I interviewed Marty and we talked about Texas fiddlers, his favorite fiddler who he met and had the good fortune to have a few lessons from, legendary fiddler, Benny Thomasson. And a whole lot more. This is an edited version from the original with better context and punctuation. Check out the interview and watch the video. 

Mike: Tell me about… you met Benny Thomasson when you were a kid,
didn’t you?

Marty: Yes I would say it was in the summer of ’77. I would have been 14. I met him at a contest in Arlington. Of course, everybody liked to be around Benny, but I got to meet him and talked to him for a while and he gave me his name and address, I mean he wrote his address and everything on paper… his name and phone number and he told me to call him and come to see him. I went over to his house about 3 different times and he showed me a few things on the fiddle. I didn’t get to go very often. My dad took me up there 2 or 3 times.

Mike: Yes so you actually got to watch him play live and in person, that is amazing. So tell me about the Elmore Fiddle Camp. How did all that come about?

Marty: Well Randy, my brother, started it in 2001, so this makes the 18th year. And, he started it at this place in Keene, Texas. A place where camps are held. It stayed there a couple of years then he moved to Cisco Junior College and the numbers were pretty big. Usually, we had about 100 people there every year. We stayed at Cisco from 2003 to 2010 and then he moved it to Glen Rose in 2011 and it has been in Glen Rose since then.

Mike: How many people did you have this year?

Marty: This year we had 70.

Mike: That is not bad at all.

Marty: 71 actually, guitar and fiddle.

Mike: I actually wanted to go to that camp this year but I missed out, I was doing some other stuff.

Marty: We would love to have you. We usually have numbers in the high 50’s. This year was a bigger year. Since we moved to Glen Rose, it has been averaging between 50 and 60 and then this year we had 71.

Mike: That is cool

Marty: I started helping him, I started teaching actually, I didn’t originally teach at the camp. I started helping him in about 2009.But I would go to some of the classes and even if I knew the tunes that someone was teaching I would learn another variation of it, and hang out and jam every night. Then I started teaching classes at the camp. Now I help him and we’ve been doing it, this is our 18th year, so we had a good year so I guess we’ll try it again next year.

Mike: Do you have private students?

Marty: Yes I have a few, I don’t teach a whole lot. There was at one time, 10-15 years ago where I had about 20 students that would come once a week. I would teach Monday through Thursday. I work a regular job so I teach in the evening and it started getting…it was just too many… I have about 5 right now. I don’t teach every week, I just teach every other week.

Mike: …you play a lot of Texas tunes you know I had a teacher several years ago you probably knew him, Wade Stockton?

Marty: Yes

Mike: Do you remember Wade?

Marty: I have known Wade since we were teenagers.

Mike: Yes

Marty: We became friends in about in 1975.

Mike: I took lessons from him for about 4 years. I would go out there and I would help him with his computers because I am a computer person. I did that after school you know. I would set up his stuff and he would teach me lessons…We became good friends over the years and he got me to play in a fiddle contest in Corpus Christi and I was really nervous about that kind of thing. I said I don’t want to play in a contest. But anyway it was nerve wrecking but I got the 4th place you know. There was only 4 of us in that division.

Mike: Let me ask you a couple of more questions Marty I know you said in your bio that you started learning to read music when you were about 35 was that hard for you to do that?

Marty: Well, not really hard to learn what note is what and where it was at on the neck. But to be able to sight read very fast, I am not a very fast reader. You know there are people that grow up in a classical world that read music from day 1. They can sit and play and keep tempo by reading. I read slow but I did it so I could start transcribing tunes and teaching them and have them on paper, and also it opens up a few more doors to learning. If you just open a book up you do not have to be able to sight read well to work your way through it and learn a tune. I can read pretty good now, I have been doing it for 20 years now and I have been transcribing a lot of tunes over the years. So, I am still not a real fast reader but I can read okay and I am pretty good at transcribing them nowadays.

Mike: Right, that is good

Marty: So I find that’s the easiest way to learn and it is also the easiest way for me to memorize. It is much harder for me to memorize a tune when I am learning out of a book. Now I can do it, but it doesn’t take off as much as just learning it by ear or just doing it sitting knee to knee with another fiddler.

Mike: Right

Marty: Anyway that is the main reason I wanted to learn to read, just to be able to learn from opening a book and play a tune out of it and plus to be able to transcribe tunes.

Mike: What inspired you musically?

Marty: Well I don’t know, just through the years, I got inspired by different things sometimes. I have known most of these old tunes that we play in contests and jams most of my life. Some of them I learned later in life. I learn tunes and people would ask me how long have you known that that tune and I’d say “I don’t know since I was about 15. The tunes are always changing but your fiddling evolves as the years go by, you know the way I played when I was 20 is not exactly the way I play now. I can get inspired by listening to Benny. He has always been my favorite fiddler. I have a lot of jam tapes of the old Texas great fiddlers and I pull Benny out and listen to him and it never gets old. I will go on and off with different fiddlers for a while and then I will listen to other things. I pull out a Norman Solomon tape, jam tape… I have got them all digitized now and I will listen and it inspires me again.

Mike: Yes

Marty: The way one person plays versus another person. When I go to learn a tune, I usually, if I don’t know the tune, will dig through my Benny collection and I will usually learn it from Benny first. Then I will look through my other fiddlers and maybe I will find Norman or Vernon Solomon, or Louis or Major Franklin, or somebody else playing and I will listen to all their versions also and I will learn from them, but initially I usually learn the tune from Benny just because he has always been my favorite fiddler. I will listen to every one of them playing a tune, steal a little bit from everybody and then just play it the way it suits me. It does not sound like a carbon copy of anyone it just sounds like me. My major influence when I was growing up was my brother, Randy. He was 8 years older than me and was already a good fiddler when I started. Through most of my teenage years, he taught me most of my tunes and the most about fiddling. I’d go see another fiddler that lived in Milsap, Texas about 50 miles away named Bill Gilbert. He was a left-handed fiddler but he was a good fiddler and was a good teacher. He taught a lot of people how to play and how to bow tunes and he knew tons of tunes. I also started trying to learn off of record and tapes.

Mike: Yes, hey what kind of fiddles do you have, do you have a lot of different fiddles?

 

Marty: Yes I have a few, the main fiddle that I play mostly and probably the best fiddle I have is a French-made fiddle, the maker is Jean Charles. Then I have an old German fiddle that I found in a pawn shop and the maker is Franz Anton Stoss, and it is a pretty good fiddle. I have an American made fiddle that I played for about 12 years and it is a John J. Daesen. I have an old Maggini copy that Bill Gilbert gave me when I was about 17. I played it till I was about 35. I came across an old fiddle with no name in it about a year ago, it needed a little work and I have done some work to it. It is really dark and black and I have been playing it, it is a pretty good fiddle too. But I guess the main fiddle that I play most of the time is the French fiddle.

 

Mike: What kind of strings do you use?

 

Marty: Well when I was a young kid I used the Super Sensitive because they were cheap and we did not have any money so we bought what we could afford. Tommy Burger was a guitar player that sold them and I could pick them up for about $5 a set. Then I went to Benny and he told me that he used Prim. He showed me the package and that is what he used and if they get a little dead sounding just wash them off with rubbing alcohol and they come right back to life. The last 3-4 month I’ve been using John Pearse ‘Artiste’ strings.

 

Mike: Do you still do bow rehairing?

 

Marty: Yes I still rehair bows. I don’t do a whole lot, I don’t advertise and try and get business. I do rehair bows for people and my own, and I tinker and work on bows. I’ve made one and I have got another one in the making but I haven’t finished it. I started doing that in 1998 so I have been doing it for

20 years and I thought back then that it would be a good thing to do on the side but I do not push it or try to get business but I get a little bit here and there.

 

Mike: What do you look for when you judge a contest, what do you look for in the contestants?

 

Marty: Well I listen to the tune. It doesn’t necessarily have to be smooth and perfect. It doesn’t matter if they are a little bit rough and it doesn’t always matter to me if the intonation is dead on perfect. If I feel like it’s their interpretation of the tune and, if they present it with some drive, so much the better. A lot of people will play tunes that they just memorized and they will play the same tune every time they play you know. I know that I will hear someone and they will play the exact same version of the tune but you know, if it is good, solid, their timing is good, they stay right on the beat, they have a good groove, if I hear a little bobble here or there, it can be overlooked. It all depends on the competition. I don’t think they have to be perfect. If you listen to the old players that invented our style, the pioneers of our style of playing like Major Franklin he did not play perfectly. He was really powerful, he played with a lot of drive, but he wouldn’t be perfect and smooth. Benny would be a lot smoother and he was more of a technician but his intonation wouldn’t be spot on either.

 

Mike: What about the future of fiddling?

 

Marty: When Norman and Vernon and Louis and those guys were in their 20’s and 30’s it was in 1940’s and 50’s and they had people like Benny, Major, Eck Robertson, Red Steeley and those guys, that’s who was ahead of them, and then they built on that. Then our generation we had all of them plus Texas Shorty, Dale Morris and everybody else who came along. Each generation has another generation to build upon and more ways to play a tune. It just keeps evolving.

 

Mike: Yes, that is right it sure does and that is cool that is a good thing. I am seeing how all these tunes evolved over the years and it is amazing.

 

Marty: Yes now a lot of the kids you hear, the really good ones they will play and you will hear them doing Major Franklin and Benny and their teachers may or may not be telling them where it actually comes from.

 

Mike: Hopefully they are telling them where it is from. Thank you, Marty, for talking with me and good luck in everything you do.

 

Marty: You’re welcome.


Maggie Estes-White

Maggie Estes White is a stylistically versatile fiddler who also plays
mandolin, sings, and dances. To date, Maggie has opened for Neil Armstrong
and has also performed multiple times on the Grand Ole Opry with the likes
of Mike Snider, the Nashville Irish Step Dancers, and Keith and Kristyn
Getty. She has shared the stage with the legendary Buddy Spicher as well as
Leahy, and has won and placed in many prestigious fiddle competitions
including the Jr. Jr. division of the National Old Time Fiddle Competition in
Weiser, ID and the Georgia State Fiddle Championship. Maggie was also a
part of the Young American Bluegrass Idols at the International Bluegrass
Music Association Awards Show in Louisville, KY. She has two albums to
her name, one a solo album, and the other, a duo album with Buddy Spicher.
Before graduating Belmont University in Nashville, TN, she was awarded the
Presser Scholarship and was also a winner of the Classical Performers
Concerto Competition. Originally from Kentucky, Maggie now resides in
Nashville, TN. She is currently pursuing her own musical style in addition to
touring the United States and internationally with Keith and Kristyn Getty,
Peter Mayer Group, RUNA, and Vickie Vaughn Band.


EDIT: Interview questions for Maggie Estes White

Thank you for taking time to answer a few questions.  Your fans and the readers of iFiddle Magazine are going to really enjoy it.

What new events do you have on the horizons? Any recordings or concerts in the future?

The remainder of this year consists of touring and/or performing with RUNA, Vickie Vaughn Band, Peter Mayer Group, and Keith and Kristyn Getty. 

RUNA is a contemporary Celtic group that just won Top Group and Top Traditional Group at the Irish Music Awards.  I have been with them since 2013, and we just released a brand new album titled “Current Affairs.”  Our Nashville album release is scheduled for October 22nd. 

Vickie Vaughn Band is a bluegrass group that grew out of some great college friendships at Belmont University.  We have been featured on Music City Roots and the Station Inn and written about in the Nashville Scene.  Our newest endeavor, an EP produced by Ronnie McCoury, should be released at the beginning of 2015.  We will be making our New York City debut at Rockwood Music Hall on September 7th. 

I’ve been with the Peter Mayer Group since 2006.  Peter is the lead guitarist for Jimmy Buffett, and he has been a huge inspiration to me in all my music endeavors.  We will be performing in Panama City, FL at the Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater for the Chasin’ the Sun Music Festival on September 12th as well as in Key West, FL for Meeting of the Minds on October 31st. 

Keith and Kristyn Getty are modern hymn writers from Ireland.  I have been with them since 2012 and was with them for their performances in Ireland last May.  I will be a  part of upcoming fall and Christmas tours which include a date at Carnegie Hall in New York City on December 17th. 

Growing up, when did you decide you loved music and wanted to play fiddle?

When I was four years old, my parents took me and my brothers to Suzuki lessons.  I absolutely loved it and thus continued taking lessons.  At some point I decided that I wanted to tour and play music for a living.  I really don’t know when that thought entered my mind, but I was very much inspired by Natalie MacMaster.  Maybe that’s what gave me the idea, but it seems as if the thought of a music career has always been in my head. 

A lot of our readers are fiddlers and musicians and like to know about practice techniques and time in the practice room. How much time did you practice growing up? What are some of the exercises you used to help you play at a high level?

Growing up, I would practice between three and five hours a day.  I played through many etude books, shifting exercises, and bowing techniques.  A couple of my favorite techniques…

For a fast passage or any finger twister, one of my teachers taught me to play two notes slow followed by two notes fast throughout the entire passage.  Do this a couple times and then reverse the order–two notes fast followed by two notes slow.  Then make up your own patterns e.g.: two notes fast, two notes fast (with a pause in between); three notes fast, three notes fast (with a pause in between).  The combinations are endless. 

I also love when my teachers have used a classical piece as an exercise.  In the end, you not only have a new technique under your belt, you have also learned a beautiful piece of music.  For example, few things have helped me more with intonation than carefully learning a solo violin piece by Bach.  Your intonation must be precise for these pieces to work. 

Most fiddlers have a favorite instrument they use for shows, recording that they love playing. What kind of fiddle do you have and why do you like it?

My fiddle that I play now was brand new when I got it from Stan Howe in Montana.  It was hand made in China.  When we first got it, we set it up on the radio speaker and turned it up loud when we left the house so the vibrations would help “break in” the fiddle.  It is now fourteen years old and has a beautiful warm and strong tone.

One time at a contest, I dropped my bow. I felt like the whole audience was staring at me. What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had while performing?

I also do Irish step dancing, and once while competing in a band competition, we had incorporated that into our competition piece.  Somehow my feet got mixed up, and I began to fall.  I didn’t catch myself until the last little bit, and fortunately the fiddle didn’t touch the ground either.  It was a bit awkward! 

I’ve talked to the master, Buddy Spicher and he’s going to do an interview and teaching video for iFiddle Magazine. What did he teach you?

Oh I love Buddy…he is absolutely amazing.  I’ve never heard anyone play or write harmonies for the fiddle as beautifully as he does.  He’s never afraid to change a tune when he finds an idea that makes it better, and he is always exploring the instrument to bring out the best. 

You’re playing with the Vickie Vaughn Band. Are you also playing with the Peter Mayer Group?

Yes, I do play with the Peter Mayer Group. 

I know you step dance. A while back I interviewed April Verch, who’s not only a great step dancer, but an amazing fiddler as well.  Do you dance professionally?

Yes.  I do Irish step dancing on the Keith and Kristyn Getty tours.  When I can, I also incorporate it in my own endeavors. 

Do you do much teaching? If so, what’s your teaching style like?

Currently, I don’t teach any private lessons, but I have taught a few Celtic camps.  I teach tunes quite often, and I incorporate a lesson on improvisation when possible.  That’s something that too many students avoid.  The longer your wait, the more uncomfortable it is to learn to improvise.  We start by learning a simple tune, then the chords, and then we take turns soloing over those chords. 

Do you have a preference for strings?

For my fiddle, I prefer the Pirastro Obligato.  Sometimes I switch between the heavy and medium gauges.  I like both thus far. 

How about a shoulder rest?

I use a Kun shoulder rest…the one that has the wood on the top side and the foam on the under side.  This enables me to tape my wireless pack onto the shoulder rest and not have to clip it on clothing. 

Playing fiddle is hard. What would you say to encourage someone not to give up?

Have fun with it.  It can be hard, but if you enjoy playing, then make sure your practice is enjoyable.  That doesn’t mean that you avoid practicing the tough stuff.  I heard Peter Mayer say once, “If you always sound good, then you’re just practicing what you know.”  So don’t be afraid or embarrassed to sound bad when you practice.  That’s how you know what to work on. 

Do you feel there’s a difference between skill and talent? If so, what do you think it is?

I believe that God has given everyone a gift or gifts.  That is often interpreted using the term talent when we see someone who has a knack of doing something very well and very naturally.  However, talent is not synonymous with “easy” or “lucky.”  Often times, there are hours upon hours of work behind the talents we see.  Our skill comes in to play when we practice, develop, and improve our talent.  The ability to do that is also a gift. 

Thank you for this interview. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Thanks so much for asking me! 🙂


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