Richard Voss,
O'Carolan's Tunes for
Descant/Soprano Recorder

(Mel Bay, 2001)

This new tunebook provides the recorder player with a good selection of tunes from well-known Irish composer Turlough O'Carolan. When I think of the music of O'Carolan, admittedly, the recorder is not the first instrument that comes to my mind. Uillean pipes, perhaps, or piano, or maybe a fiddle. However, the actual instrument that O'Carolan played was the harp, which I wouldn't immediately have associated with his music anyway, so why not the recorder?

Richard Voss has combined 40 of O'Carolan's tunes from a number of sources, and attempts to provide "easily playable arrangements for descant recorder, with guitar chords" as well. Also included in the collection are four of Voss' own melodies, which were inspired by and are in the style of O'Carolan.

In these goals -- easily playable arrangements and additional tunes in the style of O'Carolan -- I believe Voss is successful. The arrangements are indeed easy to play -- the keys are common to recorder music and awkward fingerings are minimal. The musical presentation is excellent -- notes are large and easy to see, chords are clearly marked and accents for breathing are provided. As well, a comprehensive fingering chart graces the inside of the back cover and includes the name of the note, its location on the clef and the fingering -- all essential information for less experienced players.

Voss' collection includes a good number of tunes with varying tempos, which will give the recorder player a good start on O'Carolan's works. Appearing throughout the publication are various little Celtic knot designs, which add to the Irish theme and give the reader something to look at besides the notes on the page. There are also a few tunes which Voss has noted can be played together as a set -- something that is always helpful to musicians who are unsure when choosing tunes which might go together.

Voss' own tunes -- "The Blind Harpist," a light and airy tune, and the more upbeat "Planxty Otto," "Good Neighbourhood" and "Planxty O'Carolan" -- fit in quite well with the other works in this collection. They seem to have a similar overall sound and probably could be mistaken for O'Carolan compositions.

Although this is a good collection, I felt that there were a few things which could have been improved. The index at the beginning of the book lists all of the tunes within, but is not alphabetical, which makes finding a specific tune a more difficult task. Occasionally, a tune would include a footnote stating "This tune had no title." Well, that's all fine and dandy, but it doesn't provide me with much information. Where did the title come from, then? Did Voss make it up? Did it come from other musicians over the years? Is it known by several titles? I have no way of answering these questions.

Voss leaves accents, grace notes and that sort of thing up to the reader. At times, however, it might be useful to add in a couple of possibilities for musicians to try. Notes on origins of tunes are interesting as well, and often add a bit of spice to an otherwise ordinary collection of music. I found, too, that the notation used by Voss (i.e. the classical "Allegretto," "Andante," "Moderato"), although musically correct, is not really consistent with the spirit of the music. In Irish music such as O'Carolan's, tunes are most often noted as being jigs, reels, hornpipes, airs, etc. Chances are, people buying book of O'Carolan's tunes will be confused by the notation. (Of course, I could be wrong -- perhaps most recorder players would be confused seeing something labeled as a "jig"!)

Voss' tunebook is a good value. For a relatively low price ($8.95 retail), the buyer receives a book of 44 melodies -- in varying tempos and with guitar chords for accompaniment -- in an easy-to-read, easy-to-play format. And, while I can't say that I found anything really exciting about this collection, I also can't say that there was anything I really didn't like, either.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 14 July 2001

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