Perpetuum Mobile / Moto Perpetuo

I am currently working to adapt Perpetuum Mobile for banjo.
I was listening to classical radio recently and heard this wonderful new piece by Simon Jeffes. While I enjoyed it for its simplicity and beauty, the name struck me for its relevance to Moto Perpetuo, a viola piece by Paganini which was adapted for banjo a few years ago by Bela Fleck on his classical album. The title of this album was Perpetual Motion, which in Italian is moto perpetuo, and in Latin is perpetuum mobile.
The theme of motion, perpetual or cyclical motion in particular, really fits with 3-finger, Scruggs- or melodic-style banjo in an important way, I think, and each piece, when played on the banjo, approaches that theme in a different way. Moto Perpetuo introduces a motif in rapidly jumping and diving sixteenth notes, then takes that motif through lightning quick changes and modulations. Very classical. As a stark counterpoint, Perpetuum Mobile is almost totally minimalist, with the lead instrument, originally piano, playing one bar of fifteen eighth-notes and repeating it, only transposing the line near the end of the piece. The change or motion that occurs is eventually in the orchestra, with long, deep, open-voiced diatonic chords changing once per bar. This happens infrequently as most of the piece stays on a C major chord.
In comparison, I am reminded of the old joke about how many soloists it takes to screw in a lightbulb. It only takes one; she holds the lightbulb in place while the world revolves around her. Similarly, Perpetuum Mobile uses a cyclical theme against a moving backdrop, while Moto Perpetuo actually screws in the lightbulb, moving a motif through different chords and keys.
I’m looking forward to performing Perpetuum Mobile. I’ll need a small orchestra though. Might be time to call an accomplished keyboard player.

Noam Pikelny

While the banjo player for the Punch Bros, perhaps the most successful young(ish) group to be playing anything remotely relevant to bluegrass, is rightly regarded as a technical virtuoso and a truly experimental artist with a mastery of the five-string banjo fretboard and a skill for single-string improvisation…
*deep breath* he’s got his licks, just like everyone else.
The trick, though, is in the right hand. Boy, his left hand knows what it’s doing, but a closer examination of Noam Pikelny’s right hand at a recent show revealed a startling surprise, an insight into why his runs and fills are so ear-catching and unusual.
He’s playing upside-down.
No, not physically. When Earl Scruggs pioneered this new sound of 3-finger playing – that is, thumb, index, and middle – he led, not always but predominantly, with the thumb. A major identifiable Scruggs roll is thumb-index-thumb-middle, or T I T M, where the thumb moves to different strings. A similar sounding roll would start off with T I M I, and another with T I M T.
But Noam? He will play that T I M I roll, over and over, on the chord, like everyone else, except he plays it inverted, as M I T I. This creates a sound that is less root-heavy and more about beats 2 and 4. It’s unfamiliar, it’s clarifying, and people like it.

Submitting to Pandora

I’m nervous now… I just submitted Shooting Star and Hole in the Floor to the good Music Genome folks at Pandora! This is super exciting, so if you listen to Pandora, start searching for either Dan Whitener or On the Tracks, and see what comes up! And if you don’t listen to Pandora, how come? It’s a wonderful way to stumble upon new music, similar to music that you already like, for free! Try it right now at and the Internet will be more fun.

Swan Loft

Wonderful times playing with all these great musicians! Many thanks and congratulations to the Swan Loft for organizing such a fabulous show.

Pre-Release Show

Got a show with Max Johnson and maybe more!
I’ll be closing out the night at Spike Hill following some folk bands, so come enjoy some free music…
and then use the money you saved to buy my CD!

Recording On the Tracks

Since my new CD is finally available, here’s a video of the big recording session with Chris Eldridge on guitar, Melody Allegra Berger on fiddle, Max Johnson on bass, and myself on banjo.
Recording masterfully executed by Joseph Colmenero.