Shaping the Melody

Shaping the Melody words and music by Abigail Smith

I was inspired to write this song Shaping the Melody by the rich tradition of music here in Ireland. I wrote and recorded the piece as a sound art piece.

Shaping the Melody painted violin. Picture copyright Abigail Smith

It is accompanied by a painted violin. The violin I painted was kindly donated by Crehans. The shop is in Drumcondra and is a great place to visit if you are looking to buy an instrument or get repairs. They are very helpful and kind. There is always great chats going on when you visit.

About the Song Lyrics

The song lyrics of Shaping the Melody came about after I saw program on TG4 of a whole family playing traditional Irish music together. It reminded me of wonderful memories I have of attending the Willie Clancy festival with friends. I saw young children learning tunes and playing along with their older relatives and friends. It is amazing how the music is learnt by ear by one player, made their own and passed onto the next player. There is an ancient quality to the music. The music has been shared for generations.  I made the video above with Rotor video.

Painted Violin

I painted the violin because each instrument needs its player like the player needs it. The wood has been grown for years in a forest. Skilled hands have shaped the wood and crafted the instrument. It is a delicate and creative process to make an instrument.

Sketch I did of idea for painted violin.

The luthier never knows how it will sound until it has been played in. As musicians we have a real love and attachment to our instruments. I often wonder about all the people my viola has been played by before me. I feel very thankful for the music I can play on it and the wonderful experiences my viola has brought into to my life.


Shaping the Melody words and music by Abigail Smith

Wilds rivers, skies and stars flow into these notes,

Through the years,

Flowing through fingers from player to player,

Elder to young,

Shaping the melody,

Shaping the melody,

Shaping the melody,

Shaping the melody like the river its stones,

Each player makes the tune their own,

Stories of this land,

Our oceans, rivers and stars,

Moment after moment

Held and let go,

Life retold and retold,

Held and let go,

Shaping the melody,

Shaping the melody,

Shaping the melody.

Copyright Abigail Smith

Playing music a meditative practice

I love to play music with other people but since I had the twins it’s been more of a challenge to find time to do things. Many of my friends are also at the stage of having families or working hard at their careers. I had to make a way for myself to play music with other people every week.

Joining a local Irish Traditional Music Session

I decided to join a local Irish traditional music session. I’ve been attending a weekly session for almost a year. Our teacher is the talented musician and composer Eamon Galldubh. We have a book of tunes Eamon has transcribed and we play through them together each week at a slower pace than they would normally be played at. This gives everyone the chance to learn the tunes at a pace that is relaxed. Some of the tunes we learn by ear. There are usually about twenty of us in attendance. It’s a mixture of instruments, Irish flutes, tin whistles, fiddles, mandolins, banjos, Irish harp, guitar, bodhran, spoons, accordian and viola.

Playing traditional music on the Viola

I have been playing the tunes on the viola. As I play them I am bringing them down an octave or using third position on the A string if it sits well. I don’t know a lot about the ornamentation or the bowing but playing the tunes with traditional Irish players has helped me gain a better understanding of the style and the rhythm. The written rhythm is not what we play as there is always a lovely lilt to the rhythm of the notes.

Knowing the tunes off by heart

I find once I know the tune off by heart and the mind is settled it feels like a meditative experience.

Photo of Church in Kildare.

It is relaxing as all thoughts fall away. I can understand why so many people love playing Irish traditional music. It is a very open and welcoming atmosphere. We have a break halfway through for a cup of tea or coffee, biscuits and chat. I would highly recommend joining a slow session if there is one in your area and you have the interest. I have fallen in love with some of the tunes. I love how in a set the tunes contrast and set each other off. I have found the music has been influencing my own compositions. Some of my favourite tunes that I have learnt at the session are the Hare’s Paw, The Kings of Kerry, The Hag at the Churn and the Maid at the well. It’s been a  truly soul enriching experience. I started off playing Irish traditional music on the fiddle when I was a child in primary school and it has been wonderful to reconnect with this.

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