FolkWorld article by Alex Monaghan:

Tin Sandwich Tips from a Binary Brendan Power?
Button Box Brush-Ups from a Digital Derek Hickey?

All this and more with Torpey's Trad Tutors on CD-ROM

Brian Finnigan, photo by Alex Monaghan
Brian Finnegan at Cambridge 2003
(Photo: Alex Monaghan)
Irish music tutorials in a box. Not a new idea - we've read the book, heard the tape, seen the video. Loading the CD-ROM was the obvious next step, and no doubt there'll be interactive DVDs in due course. So what's special about MadForTrad's new series of 16 high-tech tutors? Lots, actually.

For starters, MadForTrad have assembled the most marvellous troupe of traditional musicians to produce their tutorials. Of all the banjos in all the world, it has to be Gerry O'Connor's. Nobody does Irish harmonica better than Brendan Power. In the small world of the concertina, the big cheese is Niall Vallely. Brian Finnegan has probably the most versatile tongue of any whistle player. When it comes to flutes, Mike McGoldrick is the natural choice, but he was too expensive, so they got Seamus Egan. (Actually, Mike is pencilled in for the low whistle tutor!) The list goes on, but I won't: suffice to say that every tutor is world class, and many are in a class of their own.

Sure, some of these guys have done tutorials before, but never with the level of detail, the close-up photography, and the versatility of digital video. A CD-ROM has enough room for video, text, musical scores, photos, and more. There's basic technique, advanced technique, exercises, tunes, tips and tricks, even advice on choosing and maintaining an instrument. Whether you're an absolute beginner or ready to start playing in public, these tutorials will teach you more than you could pick up on your own. Almost all the tunes you'll learn are from the Irish core repertoire, so you'll encounter them in sessions and on recordings, and you'll be able to share them with musicians the world over.

The lessons themselves are based around traditional tunes in the time honoured tune-a-day manner, with clever use of video to teach the tricky bits. There are video clips for each turn as well as for the whole melody, so you can pick up each part and then play along with Seamus or Gerry as often as you like. All the tunes are provided in crystal-clear manuscript too. As far as the technology goes, everything works and fits smoothly together: MadForTrad have used standards like HTML and MP3, so it should all run on any home computer with no need for special software. Works like a charm on my laptop PC, and has plenty of endorsements from Apple users.

Frank "MadForTrad" Torpey
Frank "MadForTrad" Torpey doing a spot of home decorating
If you know much about Irish musicians, you'll know that the names on these CD-ROMs are generally from the cutting edge of the tradition, rather than the slow-moving core. These musicians are pushing Irish music forward. However, they also boast many All-Ireland championships and the techniques and styles taught in these tutorials wouldn't be out of place in even the straightest of Irish sessions. The same skills underpin daily music in County Clare and festival concerts at Cambridge or Celtic Connections. Once you've learnt, you can choose the path you want to follow. So what are you waiting for? At a little over 30 Euro each (currently around 20 Sterling, or $40 in hapless US currency), each tutor is about the same price as a one-hour lesson from a decent teacher.

Finally, all of this is available online from the site, a web phenomenon that's well worthy of its own write-up (watch this space). Set up by Nomos bodhrán maestro Frank Torpey, MadForTrad has all the advantages of a specialist website and none of the disadvantages of some bigger commercial efforts. If you haven't explored the wealth of wonders assembled by Frank and friends, wander over there as soon as you get the chance. As well as the tutorial CD-ROMs, there are tunes in Midi and manuscript formats, an extensive CD shop, and lashings of information on everything trad. The online store is the perfect outlet for high-tech tutorials: if you were living within a good spit of an Irish music scene, you wouldn't need a tutorial, right? This way, wherever you are in the world, as long as you're as technically with-it as the average Irishman, you can order top-class trad tutors to your heart's content. It might not content the neighbours quite as much, unless you live in Ennis. Of course, if you do live in Ennis you'll be enjoying the high-tech benefits of Ireland's official Information Society flagship town, with broadband in every bar and a PC in every parlour: but you may have much less need to learn your music from a CD-ROM.

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 09/2004

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