I tend to think of my YouTube channel as my most important musical work, not because I put most effort into the production of the videos (I put much more time into my studio recordings) but because the channel is free for anyone online, anywhere in the world. Most of my CD sales and bookings for live performances come from fans of my YouTube channel. I also feel that my channel, and others like it (for instance those by Raymond Crooke and KelticKev), is important because it makes recordings of traditional folk songs accessible for anyone with an Internet connection. My recorded CDs do that too, but far fewer people will buy the CD, so the YouTube channel remains more important.
Accordingly, I tend to celebrate the various milestones for my channel, which is now into its 8th year. Not too long ago my channel surpassed 3 million views from people around the world, but my most recent milestone is the posting of my 300th video. Technically, I’ve posted that number already, as my very first videos were taken down and re-recorded with better equipment, but this is the first time that 300 videos have been live on my channel.
I was pondering the possibilities for that 300th video, and I put the question to my followers on Facebook. One listener (an old high school buddy, Mark) gave a neat suggestion—make an alternate arrangement of the first song I ever posted to YouTube. That video, as it turns out, was of the Irish song “The Leaving of Liverpool” performed on mandolin. The song is an upbeat one popular at pubs and festivals, but the lyrics are actually quite sad, involving a young sailor leaving his sweetheart to make a dangerous sea voyage to California. Sadly, the original file of the song that I uploaded in 2007 is gone forever, but my rerecorded version of the song’s traditional melody is available here.
So, my task was to create an original arrangement for this classic folk song. Since the lyrics are bittersweet, I thought that changing the major key to a minor one would highlight that sad quality. I started tinkering with the chord arrangement, using a fingerpicking style instead of my usual vigorous strumming for this song. I’m quite pleased with the results, which one might argue suit the lyrics even better. I know that listeners are usually divided on these types of rearrangements—some love the new take on an old song, but many think it sacrilegious to tinker with classics in this way. Obviously, I have no issue with it, and can enjoy both traditional and rearranged versions of folk songs, though I do appreciate when new arrangements stay faithful to the sentiment of the lyrics.
So, please have a listen, and let me know what you think. For those of you who’ve followed my channel so far, thanks for your support. I look forward to bringing you the next 300!
Well, it’s that time of year again—Christmas is coming, and for the last four years I’ve made it a custom to learn and post a Christmas song to my YouTube channel. I, like many of you, really enjoy Christmas music, but by the end of the holiday season I’m sick of hearing it. The problem is compounded by how every year the stores and supermarkets are playing it earlier and earlier.
So, what happens is that I learn a new Christmas song, which involves playing it over and over until it’s second-nature; then I don’t touch the song again for 11 or 12 months. I forget how to play it in the off season.
When I was recently asked by award-winning singer-songwriter Nancy Beaudette to open for her annual holiday concert in Williamstown, ON, I was caught not knowing how to perform any Christmas songs “by heart.” This forced me to get around to learning my annual song for posting to YouTube; this time I chose “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” (click here to listen). The dramatic melody of this song always appealed to me when I was younger, and it was a real pleasure to learn it in its entirety. I also like how it’s a traditional song, with no known author, so it seems to fit with my folk music channel.
Christmas music, perhaps more than any other popular music, seems to function like traditional folk music: people from all over know the same songs. We also hold onto them and connect them to communal traditions. Unlike most pop music, the Christmas classics will likely be around for decades, if not centuries.
So, I hope you like my rendition, and the Christmas playlist I’ve started on my channel. Happy holidays!