Fiddle - Cathal Hayden
Irish Tenor Banjo - Gerry O'Connor
Guitar - John Doyle
For something like eight years of my life, I passed half an hour every Monday evening in a dingy room attempting to acquire the skills necessary to play the piano. Until I was old enough to catch the bus into town by myself, my father would accompany me and pass that same half hour in a local pub with a copy of the Evening Post. While his thirty minutes no doubt passed all too quickly, mine were the equivalent of a lifetime in hell or, considering I had more experience of the place, a week in Skegness in March. As my fingers fumbled around the keyboard and my eyes feared to meet the stern gaze of my teacher, how I would have envied anyone fortunate to have one of these CD tutorials. However, that was at a time when the equipment needed would have filled the Albert Hall (Nottingham’s more compact version) and 'Mad for Trad' might have been a Saturday morning show on the Light Programme, no doubt featuring Bob Miller and The Millermen.
A CD tutorial can never fully replace learning personally from a teacher, but these discs are not far short of that process. Each comes packed with an incredible amount of information, beginning with the rudiments of music and the individual instrument and then progressing in a gradually unfolding manner through beginners’ and advanced stages. For instance, in his beginners’ section, Cathal Hayden demonstrates simple tunes and techniques such as rolls and slides, progressing onto triplets, double-stopping and advanced bowing techniques. There is also a tutor section where the various maestros recount their musical histories and influences and play a ‘performance piece’.
The essential elements of each CD, however, are the video clips where the musicians demonstrate basic and advanced techniques and run through a variety of tunes or accompaniments in close-up often, for instance, just showing the musician’s hand fingering the strings. This does produce one oddity since guitarist John Doyle is left-handed, so the images of him will be rather like looking into a mirror for most players, but then most guitarists will be used to doing this already!
The discs employ HTML format via the computer’s web browser (and also require the Windows Media Player), and so operate on a convenient ‘point and click’ basis. Obviously, this means that processor speed and memory are vitally important, so those with an older computer might find some of the elements slow to load. One way around this is to close as many other programmes as possible, and MadforTrad does offer advice and the facility of downloading samples from their site so that you can test your computer’s compatibility.
Obviously, there is a huge temptation to skip sections and, for instance, skim through all the technical wizardry on offer, but what is so impressive is the sheer excellence of the musicians’ abilities. More details about other discs in the series and various FAQs can be found at www.madfortrad.com
Thinking back to Gerry O’Connor and his chromatic triplets - I wonder if he’s considered that as a band name?
Geoff Wallis - 20.3.02
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