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Fig.1: Lassie.

McKenna plays this at an easy going pace with a slight bouncy breath pulse to help it along. I play the sort of pulse employed at the start of the clip below. This is how it might be used to match the melody in the first part of this tune.

Again, he's playing with a great tone here. I like what he does with the long high G in the 4th bar of the second part: he really draws it out and plays it expressively.

The little triplet runs down from the high G elsewhere are also a nice, distinctive touch.



This second reel of track 6 is a setting of a tune more commonly called 'The Hare's Paw'.

Corry is an area on the north shore of Lough Allen in County Leitrim not too far from where McKenna was reared.

In the clip below I initially play the sort of rhythmic pulse which includes McKenna's unusual phrasing in the first part (where he takes a long breath/break after the long G).

I generally play this rhythm a bit more emphatically than McKenna does, and I'm playing with quite a different tone, so the effect is different in certain respects.

McKenna's accuracy and tone on the E rolls in this tune is top class.



This is another famous track where McKenna alternates flute with lilting... good crack! This first tune of track 6 is otherwise know as 'Johnny With the Queer Thing' ... the sailor lads above seem to be enjoying themselves.

What's apparent on this track is that the tone he's getting is really classy: clear as a bell and very consistent (I don't aspire to that sort of tone, so the difference will be apparent in my effort below).

This version is a bit different to standard session settings of the melody. The A rolls and the little drop to the C sharp are nice touches in the first two bars of the second part, and he throws in a surprise variation on the final run of the second part in his third time round on the flute.

In the clip below I play a slowed down example of the sort of articulated breath pulse that he employs to get a nice, jaunty rhythm, then I play the melody slowly then up to speed.




This is the second reel in the Rollicking Irishman set.

McKenna leans into a bit more of a swing rhythm on this, and it's a tune that lends itself very nicely to that on the flute.

His breaths stick almost exclusively to the ends of the four bar phrases of the melody in contrast to the last one where he avoided doing that so as to have the first and second parts flow into each other.

As in some other tracks he's playing C natural quite sharp, an effect that I've approximated by playing the C natural cross-fingering with just one finger instead of two. He does consistently play C naturals in other places, so the sharp C naturals are likely just a feature of an intonation that he preferred in certain tunes.

Again, this is played on a flute pitched in F made by Tom Aebi.



...Now, there's a right decent rollicking Irish chap for you.

This is McKenna's setting of a reel which seems quite related to big reels like 'The Merry Harriers' and 'The Merry Sisters' (it's all very merry).

Couple of things that my lug notes here:

1. McKenna is not playing this with the vigourous swing rhythm that he employs in other reel performances. He's playing more straight to the down beat (ONE two ONE two ONE two...) I play a bit of that sort of pulse at the start of the clip below.

2.Phrasing (i.e. both the melodic phrases of the melody AND the places where he takes breaths): He avoids taking breaths at the ends of the parts so as to retain the nice dynamic thing in the melody where the parts are propelled into each other. Also, he does his 'big dramatic pause/breath' thing at the end of the second part every time round of the tune. He does this in other reels too. He doesn't really need to take a breath that long, so it's likely just a quirky feature of how he phrased things, and it serves to announce the end of one round of the melody and propel it into the next round after the stop.

BTW, McKenna plays this on a flute pitched around F so, for a change, I play the clip below on an F flute made by Tom Aebi.






Construction on the McKenna project has been held up because I'm moving house. I'll hopefully be back putting the timber plumbing in some time next week.




Here's the second tune of track 4, a reel more popularly known as 'Miss Thorntons'.

A few things I note:

The Cs in this tune generally sound closer to C sharp, rather than the C naturals one might expect of a tune in G major. This emphasises the slightly different melody that McKenna plays at the end of both 4-bar phrases of the first part.

The way he plays the start of the 2-bar phrases of the second part is nice... bg g(roll) agbg... and he reverts to the more standard melodic bit there for the third 2-bar phrase... bg g(roll) bgag... He varies that a bit though.

Some of the rolls on high G that he's doing in bars 4 and 8 of the second part sound very like double-cut rolls, that is, rolls with (at least) two upper grace notes instead of one. These almost sound like trills in a couple of places.

He lashes into a very articulated rhythm in places in the more notey and dynamic first part. I've tried to demonstrate something like that breath pattern at the end of the track below, but do bear in mind that I can't yet do this with anything like the fluency, speed, and seeming effortlessness, of McKenna.

Some people think McKenna's music is sort of wild and huffy. It's not. It is highly thought out and he is doing specific things for specific effects. Some people seem to think what he was doing was sort of primitive and easy. It's not. It is highly technical and he had developed techniques that a majority of contemporary players just don't have a clue about so as to be able to recognise and appreciate them.






Moving on to track 4 of disk 1 of the John McKenna double CD...

This tune is a perfect example of the sort of classy, jaunty rhythm that McKenna could turn on in reels. Again, he's using articulation, and doing it very fast, but in a relaxed sort of way.

The tune itself is not widely played (I've never met anyone else who plays it) but, melodically, the first part seems quite close to a reel that Tommy Reck played called 'The Snow on the Hills', while the second part is close to the second part of 'The Liffey Banks'.

Besides the rhythm a couple of things that catch my attention are:

The C notes: The tune is in G major, but he's playing some Cs that sound like full C sharps, while others sound sort of in between. In the recording attached I play the Cs with the single fingered cross fingering, so they come out a bit sharp of the standard C cross fingering with two fingers.

Phrasing: ... or where he's taking breaths. Again, a very precise and tastefully chosen approach from McKenna on the CD track. One unusual thing is where he takes a big breath before the last run of the tune. He does it every time, so I approximate this in the recording.

The little 'gfe' triplet in the second last bar is nice. Quite a piping-suggestive touch to that.

I play the tune up to speed and then demonstrate the basic sort of pulse rhythm needed to get that sort of effect. It's worth noting on the original track however that McKenna varies the emphasis, and the amount of emphasis, in certain places so as to keep it fresh and interesting.





This is the second hornpipe appearing on the duet between Eddie Meehan and John McKenna on track 3.

It's a lovely tune anyway, and the two men make a further meal of it by 'going large' on the use of triplets in the second part. Their articulation of the rhythm (as in the first tune, demonstrated in the previous clip) remains solid but relaxed and gives great definition to the triplets: good articulation can 'ground' such finger work and stop it from sounding flighty.

Frank Fallon is on top form on piano on this track. Really enjoy his accompaniment here.




This hornpipe appears as the first tune on track 3 of first disk of the newly re-released McKenna tracks.

It's one of the duets with Eddie Meehan, a fantastic fluter whom McKenna was obviously very comfortable playing with. Their other duet, 'Bridie Morley's Reels', the last track of the re-release disks, is simply the best flute playing for rhythm and style that I have ever heard

This hornpipe is more commonly known by the name 'Alexander's' and is quite the piping tune having been recorded by Tommy Reck and Séamus Ennis. There are a few notable differences between this version and the piping versions, particularly the run down in the third bar of the first part, the fourth bar of the second part, and little things like the use of triplets to nice effect here and there.

I note the lovely phrasing that the lads match each other with, particularly in the first part, where they stick to a nice two bar phrasing. Also their rhythm is jaunty without being too spiky or clipped with articulation - very relaxed and comfortable... they are understating the technique brilliantly while avoiding the sort of stilted and stuffy rhythmic emphasis that hornpipes are sometimes made to suffer.

After I play the tune in this clip, I try to estimate the sort of pattern of breath emphasis that was employed to both achieve that nice rhythm and articulate every note... would be easier done if I had McKenna or Meehan to hop off!




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