Sol's Tunes

I started writing dance tunes in 2002. The first few may be lost now -- I certainly don't remember how to play them -- but I've got records of all the tunes I've written since summer 2002, and they're all here. They are arranged in reverse chronological order, so the latest tunes will always be at the top.

Starting with "The Platinum Ring", I think the tunes have a much more solid "Irish" feel to them, and I'm very happy with them. A few of my friends have started learning and playing these recent tunes out in public, which makes me feel extremely grateful. I hope you like them too! -- Sol

Note: Unless otherwise noted, the MP3s are of me playing the tune on my O'Riordan D whistle. I'll try to find the time to record more of the tunes, and make better recordings of the existing ones. The "Wayward Girls" are Jennifer Foster, Emily Peterson, and Stephanie Cornelius -- a big thank you to all of them. Steph is also the usual beta tester for my tunes, and I cannot thank her enough for that.

Most of the tunes in an ABC file

Scott and the Bear
September 2016

Sarah Wishnevsky has been a dear friend of mine for two decades now. This reel, in the spirit of Emile Benoit's "Happiness Reel" and "Diane's Happiness", celebrates her marriage to Scott Lynch. May it be long and full of joy!

Jen suggested the title as a sort of homage to another Emile Benoit reel, "Wayne and the Bear." "Bear" is Sarah's long time nickname and pen name.

They Sailed From Belfast
May 2015
Whisky & Water

As a benefit for the Great Lakes Gathering, they auctioned off writing a new tune. Mark McKnight won the auction, and when we discussed what I would write, he didn't have any direct ideas, but instead discussed his family's history. The part that really caught my attention was that in the 19th century, the entire extended family had pooled their resources so that one couple could immigrate to America. But he also specified that his family was too happy for a sad song. Combining all those notions lead to this driven little reel.

The Chemical Banks
August 2014
Bb Water Weasel

A while back when I was trying to think up local names for tunes, I thought of naming one "The Tittabawassee Banks". But then I thought of how Dow Chemical is located on the Tittabawassee, and the Chemical Bank is a local chain, and the play on words / tune titles was irresistible.

The Flowers of Midland

Since I had a tune named for Bay City, I figured I needed one for the place I actually live now. Suzanne Camino suggested "The Green Fields of Midland", but when I think of Midland, I don't think of green fields. I think of flowers, both planted along the major roads in summer and in the lovely Dow Gardens.

The Road to Bay City

One day at the Bay City session, Kathy Morris complained that there were all these tunes about roads to places like Sligo and Dublin and Birmingham, but none about Bay City. Since I have to take the road to Bay City to get to the session, I decided to fix that problem.

The Star of Rakudo

Celebrating the first release of the Perl 6 "Rakudo Star" package.

Tali Foster's
Bb Water Weasel 2014

Tali was a great dog, always gentle with Percy and Henry while brimming over with enthusiasm at the prospect of a walk or a swim. Her sudden death from cancer on November 2nd was a horrible shock. I toyed briefly with the notion of writing a lament, but then concluded that such a happy dog deserved to be remembered with a happy tune.

The Raptor In The Cradle

Henry sometimes makes the most amazing vocal noises when he's lying in his crib.

The Doublin' Reel
Bb Water Weasel 2014

First new reel in ages. Celebrating the hormone number doing what it was supposed to, an enormous relief which lead to great joy. (Followed by an entirely new set of worries, and then even greater joy about eight months later. That's life.)

Untitled Waltz for Emily and Dirk

In honor of Dirk and Emily's wedding, 9/1/2007. Will probably get a proper name later. Currently is crooked, not sure if I'll leave it like that long term or not.

Two Weeks To Wait
Original recording
Bb Water Weasel 2014 (Much better recording IMO)

They say it's two weeks, but really the 14th day is just prelude to another couple of days of waiting before you actually know anything. I suppose if you're lucky then there are months of waiting after that.

Tune-wise, apparently I wasn't satisfied stopping with just one hornpipe. I think part of my motivation to write this was that every single hornpipe I've learned in the last few years was in a major key. This is a nice little E Dorian tune. Or is it E minor? The only Cs are passing tones; I think I always play them as C-sharps.

Bilberry Blossom

This is the first hornpipe I've ever tried to write. One night Gerry cooked us all an elegant pancake and fruit dinner, and Peter took one look at the lovely blueberries and said "Bilberries!" We were all charmed by this, and only when I thought of naming a tune after it did I discover that bilberries are a very real cousin of the blueberry. Apparently they grow in South Sligo.

Chan's Reel
How I played it when first written.
How I play it today (10/20/2007).

Written over a week or so, mostly while sitting at my desk, probably when I should have been working. Not much to say about the A part of this one. The B part start with a measure that makes me think of three or four different reels I think of as Sligo tunes, then quotes "Boys of the Lough" ala Peter Horan in the second measure, and then recaps the first two measures of the A part. I like that a lot. I was less happy with the remainder of the B part, but then Steph suggested a lovely little twist on it. She also brought me the name -- she asked her young nephew Chandler what it should be called, and he said "Chan's Reel", and so it is.

Miss Peterson's Defense

It certainly seems like sitting in the car is a fruitful environment for me these days. Think I started this one waiting for a particularly long light on the way to Ypsilanti. And in turn, I seem to have subconsciously borrowed some ideas from an aborted tune I started while stuck in stop-and-go traffic on my way to Ypsilanti two weeks before that.

The tune is named in honor of Emily Peterson's PhD thesis defense, which Jen, Brian, and I went to see early this year. Yes, not only is she a sterling concertina player -- she now has her PhD in physics. Way to go, Emily!

Percy on the Table
played by Stephanie Cornelius
played by Sol

Another tune started while sitting in the car waiting for Jen to finish up at work. (Don't get the idea that I usually pick her up; it's just seemed that lately every time I do, I start a new tune.) On a whim, I was looking for a tune which might go with the name "Up and Down Lady Liberty" (a reference to a great game run by Arref Mak). In some alternate universe, that is the name for this tune.

Percy is our new kitten, who isn't yet clear on the notion he's not supposed to climb on the kitchen table. Right now (at least, as I write this) our house is a constant battle of him climbing up and us putting him back on the floor. Luckily he's very good-natured about the entire process. (Update: It's now Christmas, and he's spending a bit less time on the table in his efforts to climb up into the Christmas tree.)

Better Than Nothing, I Suppose
1/18/2005-1/19/2005, tweaked through 3/2/2005

Came up A part while sitting in the car waiting for Jen to finish work. This was an attempt to write a tune that might sound good on concertina. Not that I approached that in a scientific manner. Nor have I gotten any feedback from actual concertina players.

It didn't turn out to be the "big" tune I was hoping for when I started, but it strikes me as a very happy little tune.

Note that I've written out four different endings for the parts, two going high and two going low. In practice, I tend to mix and match these on the fly, with no set pattern, and occasionally I play the first version going to low G with the last couple of notes up an octave so it goes to high G. Does that make any sense? With any luck the recording makes it all clear.

Slow Road to East China
played by Stephanie Cornelius

Another traffic jam tune. However, this was a much worse traffic jam than the one that spawned "A Mile to the Ship", and I actually managed to write the entire tune while I sat on M-14. The first part was written on the Susato C that is always in my car, the second part on my Water Weasel Bb, which I got out from my backpack when I realized I was going to be sitting there a while. I started with the opening phrase of "Boys of the Lough" and "Sunny Banks" and then tried to go in a completely different direction.

The name, then, is a literal description of the circumstances of the tune's birth, on the way to visit my parents in East China Township, Michigan. On the other hand, it's a happy little tune, so perhaps it will find another name.

Steph suggests playing it with a pair of tunes called Charlie Harris's in Toronto, BTW. I've got to work on learning them...

The Wayward Girls' Farewell to the Happy Hooker

This tune got its start in Liz Carroll's composition class at Goderich Celtic College 2004. The first day she assigned us to write something -- anything! -- as homework. So I wrote the first part of this tune sitting outside our motel room while the girls practiced inside.

The name came next. We performed at the Celtic College Thursday night showcase under the name "Big Sol and His Wayward Girls". And the ladies decided their favorite restaurant in Goderich was Skipper's, in the strip mall next to our motel. Skipper's had a big drawing of a slightly nausated looking fish labeled "Get Hooked!" outside, so naturally they started calling the place the "Happy Hooker". So when we sat there having our final meal on the way out of Goderich after a week of insane fun, this name popped into our heads.

May we all get the chance to eat there again some day.

The Hounds Come Home

I learned the hard way that my wedding ring was slightly too big, and would easily slip off my finger if the finger was greasy from sunscreen. Thus my ring spent 28 hours at the bottom of the St. Clair River, until it was rescued by SCUBA diver Fred Duffy. He spent an hour in the water looking for it, and only asked for a bottle of rum for his invaluable service. So he got a tune, too.

The name Jen came up with for it refers to three Irish wolfhounds in the knotwork on the ring. AKA "Is He A Big Man?", the question that Mr. Duffy asked when he returned to shore after finding the size thirteen-and-a-half ring.

The Pink Ribbon Reel
performed by Big Sol and his Wayward Girls at Goderich 2004
solo whistle recording
Swingy solo low G whistle

One fine Saturday morning I taught myself the B part of the "Providence Reel" by listening over and over again to the Fred Finn/Peter Horan recording of it. When I had it down pat, I started fiddling around and promptly wrote the A part of this tune. As I realized at Goderich two months later, it actually starts with the same note sequence (but not rhythm) as tune that came after "Providence", "Boys of Ballinahinch". But it quickly turns into its own tune.

The tune is dedicated to my mother-in-law, Brenda Schupska, on the occasion of her birthday coinciding with the end of her radiation therapy. Jen came up with the name.

I'm very pleased with this tune -- I think it is the first reel I wrote that really feels like a traditional Irish tune. BTW, I wrote it using a B-flat whistle.

The Platinum Ring
performed by Big Sol and his Wayward Girls at Goderich 2004

I thought a tune would be a good wedding present for my bride, so I set out to write this tune in secret the month before the wedding. It was hard -- I spent enough time working on it that it was the first tune that popped into my fingers when I picked up a whistle, and more than once I played a bar or two before I realized what I was doing.

I then printed up a bunch of copies of the tune and got Jen's maid of honor, Susan Wittstock, to distribute them to the musicians at the wedding reception. Once the session was going in full swing upstairs, I ran through it a couple of times with Jim Perkins so he could work out chords. We dragged Jen to join the other musicians, and premiered it for her, with most of the musicians sight-reading.

Update 10/18/2016: Shortly after the wedding, I tried to write a tune which could follow this one in a set, to be called "The Bride with the Banjo". I composed an A part for it, liked it -- and then realized it was just a fifth part to "The Platinum Ring". In the ensuing twelve years I have regularly played it as such, but I just realized this morning that I never actually added it to this official record of the tune. I think there might have been a technical limitation in the old days, where adding the fifth part broke the tune across two pages and completely messed up my software for generating these web pages. But that limitation no longer applies, and I have updated the version here to be the version I play now. If you'd like the authentic Jen and Sol wedding reception version, just leave off the fifth part.

A Mile to the Ship

I had wanted to write an F# minor reel for whistle for a while, and I started this while stuck in a traffic jam, then the traffic starting flowing and the tune got stuck. I finished it a month later, after our trip to Newfoundland. Jen suggested the name, which commemorates the distance we walked from our hotel to the Ship Inn -- a walk we had to make twice one night because she forgot her fiddle's headrest.

After writing the "Pink Ribbon Reel", I went back and added a bunch of pickup notes to this tune. It's still an odd bird, though.

Three in the Bay

Immediately after finishing "A Hat for the Whales" (and before that tune was named) I started writing this tune, doodling on the A whistle while watching freighters go by from my parents' house on the St. Clair River. The tune just fell out of the whistle, much to my delight.

The name comes from the start of our whale-watching tour in Bay Bulls Newfoundland later that month. The tour was utterly amazing; there were lots of whales around, including a young whale who got curious about the boat and came over to visit. There were so many whales, in fact, that while the tour guide was telling us we wouldn't see any until we got around the corner, I saw three whales blow in the distance. The tune sort of reminded me of "The Three Smokestacks" in its shape anyway, and the two ideas collided to become this tune name. It makes me think of unexpected bounties.

Incidentally, I'm not sure what the proper name for the body of water we saw the early whales in. The main part of the tour was in Witless Bay, but this was the bit of water between O'Brien's dock and Witless Bay. So this name may be subject to change.

A Hat for the Whales

Brian Pickell brought his band to the Saline Celtic Festival in July 2003. Worried that he might ask me if I'd written any tunes later, I sat down and wrote this one. It was a bit of a struggle, but I'm pleased with it now.

This name also refers to the whale-watching tour. As we came back (about the same place we saw the three whales on the way out) a gust of wind took my hat right off my head and deposited it in the ocean. That's when I learned the importance of putting sunscreen on the top of my head even when I planned on wearing a hat.

February Morning

I wrote this tune as present for Jen on our first Valentine's Day together. I like it well enough, but it was the first (and so far, only) waltz I've written, and I'm afraid it shows that I don't play many waltzes, and that one that I've heard a lot is Brian Pickell's great "Sourgrass and Granite".

Most of a BBQ Pork Bun

So there we were, working at the Ark, and then I somehow convinced Jen to run to the bakery and get me a BBQ pork bun. Except I didn't get the whole bun, but the bun minus a good-sized bite. So this tune name occurred to me.

I was thinking of those crooked Newfoundland tunes when I wrote this jig, so I made it match the title by leaving out a beat in each part. Of course, that's not how those Rufus-style "doubles" work at all. Guess I'll have to try my hand writing one of those some other time.

Thomas Scheer's Baptismal Reel

This tune was written for the baptism ceremony of my maternal grandmother's first born great-grandchild. It was written and performed on my brand-new O'Riordan E flat Traveller.

Trivia point: a decent hunk of the tune was written while I waited for Jen to make it to my house through the game day crowd. (Obviously I should have come up with plan that didn't involve her driving through the highest congestion the state of Michigan ever sees, but then this might be a different tune!) It was the first time she ever went to a Michigan game. Thomas's Aunt Jo was down on the sidelines as Wisconsin's cheerleading coach.

Later that evening, Jen and I kissed for the first time.

The Three Smokestacks
Fall 2002 (Tweaked Winter 2006)

I don't actually remember the circumstances behind this tune, or when I wrote it, save that it came after "Phantom Wristband" and before "Thomas Scheer". The name refers to Jen's strange but somehow successful scheme for navigating us through Lansing to find a restaurant she'd been to once that had fish and chips: Drive south till you see the three smokestacks, then turn right.

The Phantom Wristband

You know that feeling you get when you wear a wristband for a week, and then take it off? For hours, it still feels like it is there. Well, riding home from Goderich with Brock, I came up with the phrase "phantom wristband" to describe this, and immediately we said, hey, tune name. (We were making a list at the time.)

So this tune is an attempt to capture a piece of the Goderich experience -- how it just flares up, and there is this amazing week, and then you go back to your normal life. That's why the little major section in the middle does not repeat.

Can't Stop Corney

I wrote this tune in Brian Pickell's composition class at Goderich 2002. Literally -- he scattered us around the school each day to work on our tunes. This one was composed on the front lawn.

Since it was written for class, I wanted to do something a bit fancy -- change key. I knew of a bunch of tunes that went from minor to major, so I went from major to minor. Turns out that normal Western music encourages us to expect the shift to minor to be temporary, so this tune always wants to go around to the beginning again. That made me think of Stephanie Cornelius, who is usually so busy doing stuff that she seems an unstoppable force of nature.

Corney is Going Again

I was never quite happy with "Corney is Going" -- it didn't sound anything like an Irish reel to me. So I tried to reframe the tune with more Irish-style phrases. And not so coincidentally, Stephanie was leaving us again, this time to move to Buffalo.

Corney is Going

I wanted to practice writing tunes before I got to Brian Pickell's class at Goderich 2002, so I wrote this one. Stephanie Cornelius was moving to Germany immediately after Goderich that year, and was all excited to be learning the tune "Corney is Coming" because that was her old nickname. So I named this one after her leaving us for a while.

The Duck's Revenge

I believe this is the first reel I ever wrote. The name comes from my Uncle JC. He described a process where ducks lure retrievers out into the middle of the lake and then drown them: the duck's revenge.