Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sinéad O'Connor: She Moves Through the Fair

It is Traditional Tuesday and today’s feature comes from the shores of Ireland. Due to some of her public actions, displays, and opinions, I have not been the biggest fan of Ms. O’Connor; however, when I stumbled on her live rendition of "She Moves through the Fair" – I had to use it as she really does this song justice.  As Oscar Levant once said, "There is a fine line between genius and insanity."

Note that the video has some problems towards the end, but this does not affect the audio.  Additionally, she cleans up quite nicely when sporting a coiffure.

O'Connor also appears on the soundtrack for the movie, Michael Collins.  This version is more instrumentally involved and I include it as well.

"She Moves through the Fair" is one of those gems in the realm of folk/traditional music. Nearly every folksinger worth his or her salt has performed this Irish tune that can be traced back to County Donegal. It is often mistakenly credited as an English folk song because the song was first published in London. My first experience with this song was Sandy Denny's rendition with Fairport Convention. It is found on FC's second album, named "What We Did on our Holidays" in the UK, and confusingly named in the US by A&M Records as "Fairport Convention" (their first LP was also named "Fairport Convention" - released in the US on Cotillion).

If you search You Tube, you will find numerous recordings of this tune and some are rather well done. I picked today’s version by virtue of its simple arrangement and the fact that Sinéad O’Connor’s voice is quite lovely here. It really showcases her Irish accent and, because it is sparse, it allows for the emotion to flow through her treatment.

Many artists have recorded this song from Charlotte Church to Rory Gallagher to Alan Stivell (in English no less) and I am sure I will feature another version or two of this classic folk song in the future. As a side note, an instrumental version of this song metamorphosed into Jimmy Page’s "White Summer," and it appears on the hard to find "Live Yardbirds" album from 1968. "White Summer" eventually evolved into Led Zeppelin’s "Over the Hills and Far Away" from "Houses of the Holy."

Alert - Non musicians - stop reading here.

(musicians only - "Abandon all hope for ye that enter here").

Some of the more recent renditions of this song use a modal guitar tuning as this song was written in the Mixolydian modality. Most musicians may be unaware of the modes found in all western music.  Named with Grecian names, even simple scales are represented by a corresponding mode.  For example, the major scale (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C) is the Ionian mode.  The minor scale (C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C) is the Aeolian mode. The Dorian mode is also found in many songs. My synopsis of the 7 modes of western music are listed below.

As stated, "She Moves through the Fair" is in the Mixolydian mode and it is generally played in the key of D.  D Mixolydian consists of the following notes: D-E-F#-G-A-B-C-D.  The difference between the D major or Ionian mode and the D Mixolydian mode is one note – the seventh.  In the major scale there is a C#; in Mixolydian it is replaced with a C.

The modal tuning that many guitarists use on this song is tuned from low to high D-A-D-G-A-D, which is commonly referred to as DAD GAD based on the tuning arrangement.  It is said that folksinger Davey Graham invented this tuning and many use it for this song and others like it. If you play guitar, try DAD GAD. It is a little awkward at first but the G really provides a nice effect (making a Dsus4 chord D-G-A) when F# would be the note of resolve to construct a D major chord D-F#-A as found in Vestapol tuning (D-A-D-F#-A-D).

Here’s master guitarist John Renbourn, formerly of Pentangle, providing some lessons on DAD GAD with the song "Sandwood Down to Kyle" which is an example of a song in Dm using this tuning.

I first became acquainted with modes from an article in either Contemporary Keyboard or Frets in the mid to late 1970s.  The way it is usually presented is from the aspect of the same set of notes. For example the notes of a C major scale C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C can be viewed from the various starting points and thus the modes can be constructed based on the starting note's key.  Lost, I can relate.   Here's what happens:

C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C is C Ionian

D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D is D Dorian

E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E is E Phrygian

F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F is F Lydian

G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G is G Mixolydian

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A is A Aeolian 

B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B is B Locrian 

Note that every scale has the exact same notes, albeit they start at a different point along the continuum. While that can be helpful in terms at looking at one set of notes, I found it more useful to look at a specific key and then understand the modes as they relate to a song's key rather than basing it upon one set of notes.  It really is the same thing, but I have an easier time looking at it from this angle.

To keep it simple, the modes can be thought of as a scale from another key that contains the root note of your song and the scale starts on that root note. For example, the Dorian scale in C is really a Bb (or Gm) scale that starts on the second note, which is C. Confused? It is not really that difficult to comprehend, but it does seem a little daunting at first.

A Bb major scale is (Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb). The same notes are used for a C Dorian scale, however, the starting note is a C (C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C). This could also be compared to the G minor scale which has the same notes, but starts on G.

The C minor scale or Aeolian mode is really an Eb (Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D-Eb) scale that starts with C (C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C).

There are only seven modes – these all correspond to the root note (C in our case) found within another scale.

The major scales that contain C are C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, and Bb. Minor scales containing C are Cm, Dm, Em, G, Am, and Bbm. Remember a key and its relative minor have the same notes; however, the scale starts with a different note. In the above list F and Dm have the same notes in a scale - the same with G and Em.

All the modes are in order below. The Ionian is not based on notes of any other scale (it is the root scale) and the Aeolian mode does not have an additional minor scale with which to compare as it is a minor scale in its own right.

C Ionian (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C) or C major scale.

C Dorian (C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C) compare with the Bb major scale (Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb) or Gm scale (G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G).

C Phrygian (C-Db-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C) compare with the Ab major scale (Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G-Ab) or an F minor scale (F-G-Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F).

C Lydian (C-D-E-F#-G-A-B-C) compare with a G major scale (G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G) or an E minor scale (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E).

C Mixolydian (C-D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C) compare with an F major scale (F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F) or a D minor scale (D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C-D).

C Aeolian (C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C) or the C minor scale; compare with the Eb major scale (Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D-Eb)

C Locrian (C-Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-C) compare with a Db major scale (Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-C-Db) or a Bb minor scale (Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb).

Try these out on the piano – some are quite fun as the Dorian, Lydian, and Mixolydian tend to be relatively common. Others, as the Locrian, can appear somewhat bizarre.

That’s your lesson today, and as my undergraduate speech professor Andy Dale used to say, "That’s a little extra that won’t cost you anything."

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