In this brave new world of zooming here and there and everywhere, we are confronted with the giants among us, musically and culturally speaking. We have opportunities to hear from them about their musical journeys and to learn from them in classes in the online sphere.
These opportunities can have a badger feeling rather small sometimes, but take heart John Joe! We must all start somewhere, yes?
Occasionally, between tunes over in the woodshed and foraging for food in the forest, a day must be taken to clear the decks about the hut a bit. To sweep the dust from the floors, the winter’s grime from the windows, and send the spiders back outside where they belong. It is a time to craft piles of books, clothes and maybe ideas that could use a bit of shifting. Until we can be with our friends once again to play a merry tune, John Joe Badger mindfully considers what might be worth keeping, and what perhaps can be let go.
I think this is something perhaps many are doing, yes? And it’s not all about stuff either.
How has this slowing down changed your view on things in general? What will you keep from this time when it is just a memory? Being a badger, John Joe likes his solitude, and the slowness of this isolation; the pace of things and the nature of the day to day in general. But he does look forward to meeting his musical mates one day again soon.
These are hard days indeed. Even the most solitary creatures miss their dearest friends more than words can say. Each day a new ‘cup of disappointment’ is served on large and small scale. No one is spared. And so, like many, John Joe Badger must occasionally recalibrate and reset. He makes his lists, some to get him through a day, this day, the now day. And other lists for the hopeful some day. Which will come.
He ponders what will stay and what will go when this strange era has passed. He seems already to have it fair figured out. Music, tea, plenty of rest, always. Then eventually, in a better time, tunes with friends once more.
Often times, one must simply make a commitment to something. Sometimes these commitments are small, such as making one’s bed each day,, eating more kale, or promising to go for a long walk every day ~even without a dog. (to be fair, these can add up to big things in the long run.) But other times, these commitments are larger ones. Such as adopting a pet, becoming a parent, or…. investing in a new musical instrument.
Today I sent an email off to a renowned Uillean pipes maker in Ireland to acquire a “half-set” of pipes later this year, hopefully when I go to Ireland for my artist’s residency. The maker is someone recommended to me by my teacher, dear friend and fellow musician Cathy whom I trust whole-heartedly. I guess this means I am diving full on into this piping stuff. I will continue to play the set I have on loan here, with all it’s quirks, and hope for the best with the new set when I pick it up in the fall. Praying I don’t drive everyone crazy with my practicing as I go.
In the meantime, St. Patrick’s day is coming. There are gigs to play with friend-musicians I am so fortunate to know and play with. A number of years ago, this would have felt like a pipe-dream of its own, really. So I have faith that with a bit of work, maybe my own “pipe dream” may come true and I’ll learn enough to play this wild new instrument along with others once more…. in the meantime, it is nice merely to grow and learn with a new project. I have some large canvases I plan to paint on as well. Big, new terrifying territory. But, like music, I am diving in. It’s the only way.
What are you doing these days that scares you?
ps. The above is week 18 of my little drawing series with John Joe Badger. While I was away teaching in Guatemala, I did manage to make a drawing each week, though sharing wasn’t as manageable. Here are week 16 and 17…..
As much as John Joe Badger loves his borrowed practice set, even with all of its idiosyncrasies (and don’t all sets have their idiosyncrasies?), he’s begun to consider the acquisition of a practice set of his own. Perhaps even a “half set”, which would surely complicate matters.
John Joe consults his latest issue of Piper’s Weekly……
Where does an average badger of modest means even begin to look for such a set? Does he go for a freshly made set of pipes? Or a well loved set, which might come along with adopted issues. Who are the best makers? Does he seek a maker near to him and to his climactic locale? Or does he dare contact one of the makers in Ireland….? These are the questions that keep our dear John Joe awake at night these days.
These, and the humidity levels (or lack thereof) here in late winter.
There are many varieties of the notion of “bagpipe” to be found in many cultures across the globe. The Uillean pipes are just one. But since we gather the air into the bag which activates the reed in our chanter with a bellows, versus blowing up the bag of air with our own lungs, we often get curious questions from onlookers….
Yes, they are truly and actually a proper set of bagpipes. Yes, we play “real” bagpipes. And we use a bellows, pumped by our elbow (Irish for elbow is uillean) to blow them up. Hopefully this clears things up for poor John Joe Badger and his piping friends who manage to field all kinds of questions while out in the world playing.
Thanks to my flute teacher (who also plays Gallician pipes) John, and my pipes teacher Cathy for the inspiration for this week’s illustration. Each of them have heard it all over the years!
Here are some examples of “other” piping traditions….
John Joe Badger hasn’t been much of a piper these last few days. He has traveled many miles to visit different forests than his own. He thoroughly enjoyed the company of his friends from other places. But he missed his musical practice and the comforts of his very own hut.
We shall brew a cup of tea to nurse this head cold, often a side effect of getting out into the world at large. And perhaps we will coax the pipes out of their slumber a bit in the coming days. What do you like best about traveling, and about coming back home….?
……With much practicing, John Joe Badger has learnt most of a simple jig.He has invited a couple of his closest friends and confidants over for a cup of tea to share it with them.But lo!Just when John Joe reaches the B part, *phlooofff!!*….. An embarrassing blowout!His friends do their utmost not to laugh, as these things do happen.Especially in the beginning.
The fecks continue to fly, of course, yet John Joe carries on.His friends are delighted at his progress, in spite of the leaks, the blowouts and the goose-like cacophony of his playing.Keep practicing John Joe!Oh, and maybe a little twist of waxed hemp to shore up that connection between your bellows and your bag, yes?Yes.
~A TWIST OF HEMP~ week 3 of John Joe Badger’s journey into Uillean Piping……
John Joe is diligent in his efforts on wrestling the octopus-like instrument we call the Uillean Pipes. Gallant even! But there are times during this journey when one might hear some rather colorful phrases coming out of the woodshed, or round the kitchen door. John Joe realizes he has taken on a beastly task here, and that this will not be easy.
With every mistake, out of tune squawk, honk, or (occasionally, miraculously) note, John Joe looks up, takes another deep breath and tries again. Letting the flying curses fall where they may….
….. in which we deal with dryness.It is far too cold in the woodshed for John Joe Badger to practice his pipes.He must bring the noise making inside where it is warm and dry.Dry, yes.Winter is dry.And the pipes find themselves leaking air in all directions.What is John Joe to do???Well, he shores up leaky connections on his borrowed practice set with a twist of hemp thread, made sticky with a bit of beeswax.He puts a full kettle on the stove top to boil.These two things may help get John Joe through these trying, leaky, dry times.For today at least……
John Joe’s struggles are my own. I practice the pipes as much as I can, when I can find time alone in the house. They are loud! And not yet pleasant. (For others at least.) The dryness that comes with a “forced air” heating arrangement is mitigated a bit with cool mist humidification and of course, putting the kettle on as much as possible. It does help. And so does the bit of hemp and beeswax. It all feels very old fashioned. It’s testing parts of my brain and motor memory which need the exercise! I may never get to the point of playing this contraption out in the world. But who knows? I will say that I already have next week’s John Joe drawing idea in mind. And it involves flying curses. Til tuesday…..