Practical Notes on Five Sacred Trees: Craeb Uisnig

Or, as my husband and I took to calling it, “the crab uprising.”

Although this was the most difficult movement to learn and memorize, it turned out to actually be one of the easiest in performance. The solution (for me, and the conductor and orchestra I performed it with) was to just completely cede control to the conductor. I could see him out of the corner of my eye, and having a steady beat to follow made it easy on me— and not having to try to follow me made it easy, I hope, on everyone else. Taking a survey of all two commercial recordings of the piece, the eventual tempo of both is 160 to the eighth. Towards the end of my preparation I was playing it mostly at 170, but I put in my order for 160 anyway, and was glad I did— it felt just slow enough in performance to remind me not to rush.

Since I had decided in advance that I would ask to be a follower, not a leader of this one, I also made a few different videos of myself conducting it at tempos between 150 and 176, and then later also asked my husband to conduct it while standing beside me to practice watching out of the corner of my eye. Both helped a lot.

On to the specifics:

Start whisper locked

Breathe with conductor’s upbeat for a relaxed-feeling first bar.

Mm 3 R4 on F#, hold flick key for C (and all subsequent notes in that register when locked, obviously.) Lock will pay off in mm 6.

Mm 7, and all of the triplet runs coming up, are at risk of rushing, take them easy.

Mm 9 unlock during quarter rest

Mm 15, 16 L fingering only on runs

Mm 17 hear the timpani in rests

Mm 31 L hand only for C# and high A

Mm 32 L for Db, then use a fingering involving R4 for the F# so you can keep R4 there while slapping down the usual L hand for A before sweeping the L thumb up for the rest. My experience with this run was that focusing on hearing the high A would ensure the rest of it popped out easily, whereas stressing about the very top of the run would cause the entire upper range to cack.

Mm 35-37 For me this run was all about not rushing, and by extension, figuring out which notes I was most likely to give short shrift in the race to the top. Technology to the rescue, with slow-downer apps. I use the iOS app Anytune, but there are plenty of others available: just record yourself at tempo with no metronome, slow it down, and see what you’re really doing! For me, once I had gone through about a year’s worth of slow practice and various rhythmic tricks to work it up to tempo, the note that I most often skipped or rushed over was the F in the second beat of 36. Again, if I concentrated on that note, and also cast a glance in the direction of the C at the very end of the bar, preparation took care of the rest and it popped out.

Mm 43-44, essentially the same process as the previous big run. In the interest of full disclosure, my accuracy rate was slightly lower on this one, but locating my anchor note (the high B in the last beat of 44) and calmly concentrating on nailing that note still generally produced at least an acceptable smear, mercifully ending on a high D.

Mm 75, do not even try to breathe in that rest.

Mm 76, last eighth note beat: a forcefully articulated E, then just lift R 2 and 3 for a passable-under-the-circumstances F#. I did a lot of practicing of just this beat, then adding on the runs leading up to it piece by piece.

Mm 88 The only trill fingering I could figure out for this was to play a high C with the D flick key, then trill R3. At least on my bassoon, it wasn’t ideal in that it had a tendency to cack if pushed too hard in the swells. Luckily the orchestra is the main event in those bars anyway, but if anyone knows something better, grab your time machine and HMU a year ago, thanks.

There’s an eighth rest in the orchestra before the bassoon enters at 97, so hear the silence before jumping in.

Note the difference in the rhythm between 98 and 99.

103-109 these statements can be out of tempo, but really why bother.

115-120 I had a hell of a time with cacking these Bbs, and I honestly have no idea why. What eventually worked as to give each one the slightest separation in the air before each one. Hopefully not too noticeable.

123 They’re only sixteenths, no rushing.