A recorder/guitar duo with my father, this album is inspired by music I grew up with. It includes some Renaissance and Baroque pieces, as befits our early music backgrounds, but also some traditional tunes and new compositions. Michael O’Brien plays a classical guitar and a harp guitar, both of his own design and built in his luthier shop. I play a variety of recorders, including Renaissance and Baroque instruments as well as the Helder modern tenor.
You can download the booklet here.
Songs from Home – C/RR071
We’ve made music at home since Michael was a young parent and Emily was a young child. We have both pursued music professionally in different ways, but over the years playing and singing together has always been a part of family visits and occasions.
This project includes both old favorites and new additions to our repertory. While drawn from a variety of styles and time periods, it’s all music that we love and feel at home with. The combination of recorder and guitar offers an intimate soundscape and a variety of textures.
While we both have a background in historical performance practice, and we included a handful of Baroque and Renaissance pieces, for this recording we treated them just as good songs like the others. So we interpreted them in our own way as it felt natural to us, rather than strictly adhering to what would be considered correct performance practice for the time period.
Songs from Home · Emily O’Brien, recorder · Michael O’Brien, guitar / harp guitar
1. Greensleeves to a Ground · pub. John Walsh, 1706 · 3:41
2. Homeless · Michael O’Brien, 2016 · 4:19
3. Invention in B-flat Major BWV 785 · J.S. Bach (1685-1750) · 1:25
4. Invention in g minor BWV782 · J.S. Bach · 1:11
5. Invention in G Major BWV781 · J.S. Bach · 1:04
6. Songs from Home · M. O’Brien, 2013 · 8:40
7. Tant que vivray · Claudin de Sermisy (c.1490-1562) · 4:22
8. Soliloquy for a Cat · M. O’Brien, 2017 · 6:13
9. Blackberry Blossom · after an arrangement by Stephen Bennett · 3:04
10. Comagain · J. van Eyck (1590-1657), after Dowland · 6:57
11. Look Away · M. O’Brien, 2012 · 5:10
12. Dill Pickles Rag · C. Johnson (1876-1950) · 3:29
13. Passtyme with good companye · Henry VIII (1491-1547) · 3:37
14. The Water is Wide · Traditional · 3:27
Recorded and mixed by Kim Person at Cimirron/Rainbird Recording
Mastered by Mike Monseur
Artwork by Emily O’Brien
The recorder used the most in this recording is the Mollenhauer Helder harmonic tenor. This is a modern design that incorporates standard Baroque fingerings along with an extended bore and several other changes which give it a range of three octaves as well as expanded dynamic possibilities (tracks 2, 6, 9, 11, 12, 14). For tracks 1, 3, 4, & 5 I used a Bressan voiceflute (a tenor recorder in d) in Boxwood from the von Huene Workshop. This instrument has a more Baroque timbre, and combines the mellower range of a tenor with the quick response of an alto. For tracks 7 & 13 I used a Ganassi G alto in Boxwood by Ralf Netsch. I also incorporated a Yamaha sopranino in Boxwood for track 13. Although the van Eyck is usually played on a soprano, I chose a Praetorius consort tenor by Francesco LiVirghi because I felt that this particular song and its variations benefit from an interpretation that is somewhat more wistful, rather than just quick and brilliant as it is on the soprano.
The Harp Guitar payed on this album is a 2018 instrument, from Michael O’Brien’s shop, steel-strung, multi-scale, elevated fingerboard, side port and six sub-bass strings. Alpine Spruce top with quilted Eastern Cherry for the back and sides. The Classical Guitar, 2015 is also from Michael’s shop. It is a traditional Torres-style instrument in Alpine Spruce and East Indian Rosewood, with a slightly slimmer waist. Please visit www.mkoguitars.com for more photos and information.
Emily O’Brien grew up in a musical household, playing recorder from an early age along with other instruments. She studied recorder and French horn at Boston University; and recorder and Baroque flute at the Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe, Germany. She performs a variety of styles, including Renaissance and Baroque chamber music, new compositions, and English country dance music, and also coaches recorder and early music ensembles. And of course, she enjoys making music on family visits!
Michael O’Brien began composing at age nine, and now, 56 years later, can’t stop. He holds Artist diplomas in Conducting, Composition, Harpsichord, a Ph.D. in Music History, and completed a 5-year apprenticeship in the conservation of Musical Instruments. Awards have come from The Smithsonian Institution, District of Columbia Commission on the Arts, Fulbright Commission, The American Musicological Society, American Musical Instrument Society, The Annapolis Fine Arts Foundation, and others. He’s published numerous articles and papers and has written hundreds of pieces of music. His instrument shop has produced over 50 harpsichords, clavichords, and guitars. Please visit www.mkoguitars.com.
GREENSLEEVES TO A GROUND — from The Division Flute Book, pub. John Walsh, 1706 — Inspired by John Playford’s The Division Violin, The Division Flute contains sets of variations or “divisions” on ground basses that were well known at the time.
HOMELESS — Michael O’Brien, 2016 — This piece also began as a song with lyrics, and was inspired by an incident at a bus stop in which a policeman ordered a homeless man out from under the canopy into the pouring rain. A customer in the adjoining grocery store had complained. We bystanders protested to the policeman while the homeless man quietly moved out and was soon drenched.
TWO-PART INVENTIONS: Bb major, G minor, and G major — Johann Sebastian Bach, 1722 — In 1720 Bach began compiling a collection of instructional keyboard pieces for his son, Wilhelm Friedeman Bach, among which were the now ubiquitous Inventions, which every pianist now knows so well. With few and very minor adjustments we simply play the two parts as Bach wrote them.
SONGS FROM HOME — Michael O’Brien, 2013 — This is a medley of “family” tunes: “Dew, Like No Mother’s Tears” (from the Oratorio, Magnificat, Michael wrote In 2000); an alternate melody we invented for “Old Dan Tucker”; and Amazing Grace in 4/4.
TANT QUE VIVRAY — Claudin de Sermisy, ca. 1527 — Certainly one of the most well-known of the French Renaissance Chanson composers, Claudin de Sermisy was a chapel singer under Louis XII, and may have been a protege of Josquin des Prez. After 500 years, this chanson remains a beloved staple for lovers of Renaissance music.
SOLILOQUY FOR A CAT (with a forward by JS Bach) — Michael O’Brien, 2017 — This Harp Guitar solo is exactly what its title says, a homage to a dear, feline friend, named Neo. He was an alley cat in Tacoma Park, DC, who joined our home and became one of my best friends. I add an excerpt from the e-minor Lute Suite by JS Bach, because I just like it that way.
BLACKBERRY BLOSSOM — Traditional (based on Stephen Bennett’s flat-picking arrangement,1999) — From a high-school production of the musical ”Quilters” which features this popular fiddle tune, to an oratorio Michael wrote in 2000 (which also included it and in which Emily played Horn) we have a long history with Blackberry.
COMAGAIN — Jacob van Eyck, pub. 1649 — Der Fluyten Lust-Hof was a book of variations on popular tunes of the time, and is today a major staple of the recorder’s solo repertoire. The tune for this one comes from John Dowland’s dramatically bittersweet “Come again, sweet love doth now invite”, published in 1597. While traditionally played on a soprano recorder, I’ve chosen a Renaissance tenor for its more wistful character.
LOOK AWAY — Michael O’Brien, 2012 — Although we play it instrumentally here, this song actually has lyrics. Its four verses progress through the seasons poetically expressing the dwindling opportunities of farm life and small towns in America. Musically and poetically the chorus borrows the classic, folk-song phrase, “Look Away”, and brings to it a contemporary meaning.
DILL PICKLE RAG — Charles Johnson, 1906 — Like so many “fiddle-rags” this tune originated as a piano rag in the early twentieth-century.
PASTIME WITH GOOD COMPANY — Henry VIII, c. 1513 — Also known as the King’s Ballad was written soon after the English King’s coronation and is perhaps the most famous of Henry VIII’s compositions. Our interpretation is not intended to be in any way period-correct – we’re just sharing a good song with good company.
THE WATER IS WIDE — Traditional — It’s become a tradition at the annual Harp Guitar Gathering for all the harp guitarists to play this beloved folk song together.
We are deeply grateful to our many friends and supporters who have helped us make this project a reality, including R. Blanchet, F.&M. Simpson, K. Oye, S. Reuther, J. Peachey, D. Cornelius, G. Peachey, D. Greene, C. Holy, K. Wass, R. Sansom, and many others. Thanks also to Kim Person for her hard work recording us and welcoming us into her studio.
And most of all, we thank our wonderful spouses Mary DiQuinzio and Jake Kassen, whose love and support means everything in the world to us.